Reggae is an uplifting music to people around the world. Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans have used it to help them overcome personal challenges and difficulties. But to Modena, Italy’s David Andrew Ferri, who now sings and chants under the name Lion D, reggae helped him connect with the African side of his heritage he never knew. Ferri lost contact with his Nigerian father and when his Italian mother moved from his South London birthplace to her home country he was 8 months old. As a young man he struggled with racism and despite being a gifted painter at school had no interest in music until he heard reggae aged 17.
“Anything I’ve learned is through the music.” He told Reggaeville with emotion in his voice. “Music is my school and my teacher. It’s everything. Music helped me build myself and grow myself. I keep the connection with Africa and my roots through the music”.
Now Ferri paints rhythms with his singing and deejaying – in a style and timbre that call to mind a less Autotune-dependent Busy Signal. Since 2009 he has released 3 albums and a dancehall EP via Italy’s Bizzarri sound and label. The latest, Bring Back The Vibes, is an all live instrument based tribute to the foundation artists that inspire him – including nods to Inner Circle, Studio 1 and even some harmonica from the Wailers’ Lee Jaffe.
Reggaeville caught up with Lion after two days of rehearsing with his Livity band for a show on June 8th in his home city of Modena – the Italian sports-car capital.
Ferri sees his work as such a natural calling that he finds it hard to put his connection with it into words. He apologizes for his English and that he keeps slipping into Jamaican – even though he speaks English very well and is talking to a fellow Londoner so patois is no problem!
“I grew up around Italians so speaking Italian is my thing. But through the music I keep up the English and especially the patois alive! People ask me “Lion, how come your father is Nigerian, your mother is Italian, you were born in London but you live in Italy and chat patois?”
Today Lion D has a large following across Europe and has travelled to the USA and Jamaica. Yet he doesn’t forget where he came from and the sounds that let him get where he’s going.
“I listened to reggae from high school every single day. My first teachers were Bob Marley Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown. The foundation. Music is my nature so I give thanks to the Almighty. I just followed this feeling from the very first time and said I want to do something like them. It’s just a feeling inside where you say I have to follow this. That’s my thing. That’s my path.”
Were you reaching out to your father and your African heritage by listening to reggae?
I was going back to the roots. It was not easy to know yourself and know your culture. It must be an inner thing which is why music helped me. I never knew I could be a reggae artist. But the first time I listened to reggae I knew it was my way. Not only in terms of talent. It was a thing that helped me know myself and know my roots. Jamaican music recalls to Africa. All black people are African people. Like Peter Tosh says “No matter where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you’re an African.”
I was an artist at school. They taught me to paint but when music came it took over everything. I said I don’t want to go to university or college or anything because music is my thing and nobody can teach me music. I just had to follow that and show myself and show the world I can make it.
But it’s not easy at all especially in Italy. When people look upon me they see a black guy. Italy despite being so close to Africa has a whole heap of people who are enough racist and badmind people. That’s why as a Rastaman, as a black man, as an artist we get a whole heap of fight from all angles. You have to be strong, hold it down and go do your thing.
How did Rasta come to you?
Anything I talk about came through the music – through Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown. You can’t love the revolutionary side of reggae and the social thing and then take away the spirituality. So everything just came together – music, Rastafari, message. That’s why reggae is so powerful to me because it is a mix – spirituality, revolution, i-niversal love. I just feel it inside and try to pass it to the people and make them feel same way.
I was 17-18 when I first heard the music. I was kind of ignorant in those times. I never used to listen to any music. That’s why reggae came and rocked my world. My friends used to listen to rock or pop music but I never used to listen to anything particularly. Reggae music is so true compared to different kinds of music.