GET LIFTED: "Success is a by-product of the hard work you put in, the steps you take."
With his commanding vocals and overarching message of walk-on-water faith, Jamaican gospel star and singer-songwriter Kevin Downswell's musical ministry continues to lift the spirits and impact the lives of Caribbean people — while inspiring a whole generation of young Christians — particularly those who can't get enough of his soul-stirring tunes like "If It Ain't You" and "Close to You" (both concert favourites) and the anthemic radio smash "Stronger," one of the play-it-to-death records of the year. Downswell surprised the enthusiastic Gungo Walk massive with a main-stage cameo appearance (alongside the On the Shout band) at Saturday's Edna Manley College-hosted festival, where he spoke to TALLAWAH about crafting his songs, finding his unique style, and setting industry standards.
TALLAWAH: Given your continued reign on the music scene as gospel's man of the moment, your upcoming third album is a highly anticipated commodity. How is it coming along?
Kevin Downswell: We're in the studio now working on the project. With anything I do I like to take the time to get everything right. And so far I feel like this album is going to blow the other two out of the water. I mean, it's another broad album, yes, with a lot of different genres and styles: reggae, ballads, dance. But it's my best work to date, and I'm proud that it's coming along as I'd hoped. With my music and my ministry, the aim is to always represent Christ to the fullest and to represent Jamaica to the fullest.
TALLAWAH: Speaking of style, you're one of the most subtly fashionable men in Jamaican music. How important a role does fashion/style play in your daily life?
K.D.: I'm not someone who tries to have an image; it's just who I am. I take my image seriously, and so fashion becomes a part of that. Fashionable but not too edgy.
TALLAWAH: You're fast becoming a recognizable mainstream face, as well, How have you been dealing with fame?
K.D.: It comes with a lot of responsibilities, even though sometimes you want to run from it. But my wife and my management keep me steady. Having a support group helps. Fame, for me, is a part of the journey, so you have to just deal with it.
TALLAWAH: As the writer behind two stellar albums and two of the biggest gospel anthems in recent times, has that kind of success come as a surprise to you?
K.D.: I'm not focused on the success. I believe that it's a by-product of the hard work you put in, the steps you take to get to that particular destination. When it comes to the songwriting, a lot of the times you can feel it; you can tell it's gonna be a powerful song.
TALLAWAH: We see your gospel brethren like Ryan Mark embarking on a new ministry initiative called Pure Heart, and Prodi is embracing a more secular worldview in his creative output. Are you interested in shaking things up as well?
K.D.: Most definitely. I'm always interested in branching out, and this year especially I'm excited to take my work to another level and take the ministry in a new direction, because you have to be mindful of the importance of taking the brand beyond the stage. So there are things my fans can look out for.
TALLAWAH: I hear you're writing a book. Quelle surprise!
K.D.: Yes, I'm currently working on my first book. It surrounds the second album, so it might be called The Search Continues. It talks a lot about my songwriting. People always want to know where I was or what I was doing when I wrote some of those songs, so all of that background info is provided. And when people read the book they'll definitely connect with the music more and with me as a writer and as a singer.
TALLAWAH: You just celebrated a birthday last month. Are you satisfied with the hand life has dealt you?
K.D.: Put it this way, I'm thankful. I'm grateful for what's been happening in my career, and I'm excited about what's about to happen.