When Maxi Priest sits down and crosses his legs, his dreadlocks drape and curl around his body, hanging over one ankle and the edge of his chair. Though the singer was born and raised in England, they are a tangible reminder of his Jamaican heritage. He’s combined the two to produce his own distinctive (and very successful) brand of reggae fusion. In Sri Lanka to perform at the Hikkaduwa Music Festival (?) and the opening ceremony of the Sri Lanka Premier League, Maxi is also looking forward to watching some cricket. "I love the 20-20," he adds, "You know who my boy is? The one who bowls like this," he says, doing a creditable imitation of Lasith Malinga’s bowling action. "I think he’s great. He’s exciting. He’s brought a great energy to the game." Right now, Maxi is hot off the June release of his new album, which bears the self-explanatory title of ‘Maximum Collection.’ "It’s 36 songs from way back when to now," he says.
"I kinda look at it like a fast lane for the younger generation to catch up to speed on where I was and where I am today." On the track list, look out for songs like ‘Close to You’, ‘Strollin’ on’, ‘In the Springtime’, ‘How Can We Ease the Pain’, as well as popular covers of ‘Wild World’, ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘Cry Me a River.’ 2012 has been a good year for the singer. He’s been steadily producing new music and another album ‘Nothing But Trouble’ is scheduled for release by the end of the year. "I’m a blessed child. I am fortunate to be doing what I do, to be doing what I love. ‘12 has been fantastic," he says.
Particularly in the 80s and 90s, the same could have been said for Maxi. While he had more than his fair share of reggae fans, he would be one of the few acts to make it into the mainstream – his 1990 smash hit "Close to You" is still a staple on Sri Lankan radio and enjoyed success similar to UB40’s ‘Red, Red Wine’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love.’ Officially, he’s been in the music business for close to three decades now, but Maxi has been singing all his life. One of 10 siblings, he remembers growing up in a house brimming with music. All of them sang but it was his mother who filled the house with music. "My mother was a singer and she was also a missionary for the Pentecostal Church," he remembers. "She would sing every day. There’s not a moment in the day when she wouldn’t sing."
He grew up devouring a steady diet of eclectic sounds. "I think being brought up in England we were open to many different styles of music. I guess from an early age singing was very natural to us and I gravitated to it – from home to school to church," he says, adding that he was fascinated by the art of singing.
While his family’s decision to migrate from Jamaica to England may have paved the way for his success, growing up Maxi struggled to come to terms with his insider-outsider status. When he was 13, he began growing his hair out and has only taken a scissors to it twice since then. "It was a spiritual, cultural connection, and an identity," he says. In 1975, the year after, Maxi’s father passed away. "We had to figure things out. Become a man very quickly," he says, explaining he chose to learn carpentry so he could earn a living.
His brothers are still all in the building trade, but Maxi chose to make a career in music once he discovered he could make a living doing it. "They [my parents] used to say to me ‘opportunity knocks but once so grab it with two hands,’" and Maxi was determined to do just that and has never looked back.
Today, the artist who divides his time between England, Jamaica and New York has made so many albums that he’s not entirely sure how many there are. Is it nine albums and two compilations? "I don’t count, I just keep going," he says, neatly summarizing his philosophy.