Five years after his last album, British reggae singer Maxi Priest is gearing up for the release of “It All Comes Back to Love,” a full-length record produced by his long-time friend Shaggy. And if that alone would not be enough to have Brooklyn reggae lovers rejoice: Fans will get a first listen when he takes the stage at the Ford Amphitheater on Sunday, August 4.
Best known for classics like “That Girl” and the Cats Stevens cover “Wild World,” Priest has been a staple in reggae music for more than three decades. In 1990, he gained a global following with his record “Bonafide” and the single “Close to You,” which made him the only British reggae act other than UB40 to score an American Billboard number one hit. The iconic album introduced his signature style that merges R&B and soul with reggae rhythms, also known as “Lovers Rock.”
Born in London to Jamaican parents, Priest first sang in church encouraged by his mother, a Pentecostal missionary. He continued to hone his craft listening to Jamaican greats such as Dennis Brown, John Holt, Ken Boothe and Gregory Isaacs, as well as singers like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Phil Collins and Frank Sinatra.
Reggae sound-systems were also an essential part of his musical upbrining. As a teenager, he lifted speaker boxes for the Jah Shaka and Negus Negast sound-systems before he co-founded Saxon International, which became London’s No. 1 crew. And it was the sound-systems that introduced him to the Brooklyn audience even before his 1985 debut album “You’re Safe,” which put him on his path to creating uplifting music for audiences from all backgrounds, he told us.
Now, 34 years later, he is releasing his 11th album “It All Comes Back to Love,” a 14-song set featuring Anthony Hamilton, Estelle, Inner Circle and Noah Powa, on September 16. Priest spoke to us about his new music including the feel-good single “I’m Alright,” his “soulmate” and his excitement over performing again in front of a Brooklyn audience.
BK Reader (BKR): After a five-year hiatus, you are back with your new single “I’m Alright,” spreading the good vibes your followers have gotten to love you for. Tell us what the song means to you.
Maxi Priest (MP): It’s about appreciating life and knowing that no matter what happens, “I’m Alright.” That’s the sentiment behind the song, and that’s the sentiment of my life. I’m from a home of nine brothers and sisters, a mother who is a missionary in church and a very hard-working father. I am truly blessed and appreciate each day I get to open my eyes.
The song also relates to human emotions like envy and jealousy that we probably have all experienced. Still, you can’t let anybody hold you back. At the end of the day, you have to strive for whatever it is that you want to achieve in life. And yes, there are stumbling blocks along the way. But the moral of the story is: Don’t let anybody stand in your way of trying to better yourself and uplift others.
BKR: You are set to release your album “It All Comes Back to Love,” which was produced by Shaggy and features an eclectic roster of collaborators including Anthony Hamilton, Estelle and Bounty Killer. What can your fans expect from your newest work?
MP: The new album is very much about the evolution of Maxi Priest. It was great working with my good friend Shaggy, who comes from a DJ background and brought his unique perspective and experience to the album. We tried to incorporate influences of today’s sounds and the musical styles of the other artists who are part of this record, while not running away from what my core audience would say is Maxi Priest. And, like on the first single, fans can also hear some elements of ska and rocksteady.
I have always created albums with the consideration of the world as my audience instead of making music for just a particular set of people. I grew up in London, surrounded by a melting pot of people from Turkey, India, Lithuania and Africa, who lived just down the block from me. And I never wanted to limit my ability to one style. My art is not reggae, soul or R&B. My art is singing and being able to push barriers with my vocals and to show the range of genres that I can sing.
My voice is my friend, my company and my “soulmate.” When I was a kid, whatever happened — whether it was good or bad — I ran to my soulmate. No matter what was happening, I would create a space to sing, and that was what gave me comfort. And that’s why “I’m Alright.” At the end of the day, I am me, and I will always remain me, while I continue to strive for growth.
BKR: You are no stranger to Brooklyn stages, how does it feel to come back?
MP: It means a lot. I am coming back to the place where my music first was welcomed in America. Brooklyn has always been my biggest support, which even goes back to my sound-system days. I’m coming back to an audience that helped me to pave the way in the United States, that allowed me to sing and earn a living with it.
BKR: And what can Brooklynites expect from your show? Will you share new music from your album?
MP: They will definitely be getting that. And I expect everybody to be chanting along with me when I sing, “I don’t care what they do to me, I’m alright.” There will be nothing but good energy and excitement; I want the people leave the show with a smile. They pay good money to see us artists perform, and I want to thank everybody for their support. I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing for as long as I have!
Maxi Priest is joining reggae legend Beres Hammond on Sunday, August 4, at the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island. For tickets, go here. His new album “It All Comes Back to Love” will be available for pre-order on August 23 and is set to be released on September 20 via S-Curve Records.
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