Artist Name: Lester Lewis
Birth Name: Lester Lewis
Birth Place and Date: Jamaica, West Indies
A musical prophet, evangelist and undoubtedly the pioneer of reggae gospel - this is Lester Lewis. I wanted to discover the essence of his determination which has made him a rather deft musician. This determination has taken reggae with a positive, life-changing message beyond the shores of Jamaica, setting the stage for what it is today.
From childhood days, Lester was destined to sing. From humble beginnings in the peaceful community of Mount Prospect, nine miles from the cool town of Mandeville, Jamaica, Lester found himself first making music on his sardine pan guitar. 'I used to take milk for my next door neighbor. Somehow she discovered I could sing and she never ceased to help me develop the talent. She would ask me to sing a song and when I sing one song, she said 'Sing another one because I have a slice a bread for you',' Lester reminisced.
His determination to become a successful and domineering musician led him to make some painstaking sacrifices that earned him the accolades he has today. He left Mandeville to Kingston at age 15 for vacation. While in the island's capital, he discovered a water-damaged guitar from the 1951 storm that hit Jamaica. With his wood-joining skills, he fixed the instrument bringing it back almost from scratch. This was the beginning of a musical sojourn for Lester who started with the basics: DO, RA, MI, FA, SO, LA TI, DO. An old man in Gregory Park in Kingston showed him this and every day Lester would practice this newfound skill. Then he learned some chords, which he, too, would play everyday and that is how he started playing music.
In 1976, Lester did his first recording while working along with famous Jamaican soca musical pioneer Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. After losing his job, Lester found himself over on the hip strips of Montego Bay singing calypso for the tourists. In Montego Bay he was 're-introduced' to church by a Jamaican pastor, Pastor Watson. While living in Mandeville, Lester was brought to church by a neighbor to play the guitar. Now going to church with Pastor Watson would have a new meaning for him.
Yet by this time, Lester had adopted Rastafarian beliefs. He had the hair, he smoked weed; he lived the lifestyle. But after he was encouraged by Pastor Watson to sing in church one week, he was totally convicted and gave up his lifestyle - except smoking the weed. 'I stopped smoking cigarettes and drinking beer that day but I decided to hold on to the ganja (marijuana). Months after the Holy Spirit speak to me and I put it down,' Lester said, with a conscientious look on his face.
Life for this prolific musician changed after a rough, life-threatening incident. After physically clashing with his girlfriend, Lester took a stand that day to do all to the glory of God. He got himself a little Gideon Bible he took away from his sister, and though he could not read well at the time, he took his time and read the words of Psalm 107. he was convicted by the words: ''redeemed of the hands of the enemy. ' In that same scripture, Lester was convinced God had spoken to him and did not hesitate to give his life to God. 'When I was a Rasta I never understood what I was reading but this day it's like my understanding opened and I understood everything,' Lester said.
Lester's church was in Longs River in the Western Jamaican parish of Westmoreland. There he became the head musician. He mentored talented, young musicians and forged the way for the church to become musically inclined. Each Sunday night would be a 'jam session. ' The choir grew to enormous proportions and the musicians were constantly improving. But Lester was yet to find the musical niche that would pave the way for the prosperous music ministry of today. He stuck with the traditional way; imitating singers such as famous American preacher Jimmy Swaggart. Yet this was not the way; he wanted to write a song to encourage those in the church to read their Bibles, a practice that Lester takes seriously.
This was when Lester Lewis became Lester Lewis. There were still parts on the island that did not know the musician Lester Lewis, including his hometown of Mandeville. He even tried getting sponsorship to record an album but to no avail.
Nevertheless he was consumed with being a musical missionary; he went from church to church bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ through Christian reggae music. Lester, through evangelists that he met, managed to travel the Caribbean to minister through music. He eventually traveled with a Guyanese evangelist to Aruba and Curacao. 'People who never used to understand (Jamaican) patois or English, started to come up to me and say I am blessed by your music,' Lester said. Things turned for him for the better and by this time he married. No sooner had he tied the knot, he had to fly off to Aruba for about six weeks. When he returned to Jamaica, his wife, Rose, quit her job and joined Lester full-time in music. He taught her how to sing the parts and added her to his singing ministry - Lester Lewis and Singing Rose.
Lester and Rose charted new paths in music ministry outside their homeland, Jamaica. Their first son was born in Aruba but things began to shift into high gear for Lester. He left for Curacao to do a recording of his first album after receiving $1000 ( US ) in sponsorships from various people blessed by his music. The producer who worked with him produced Lester's first album in 1988. The album featured 12 tracks of beautiful, inspired songs of Lester's early days as a Christian. One of the hits was, Don't Try To Tell Me That God Is Dead, penned by Lester and made popular by The Grace Thrillers.
After the album, he received a call from a friend in Jamaica to hurry home to enter the Jamaica Gospel Song Festival, the island's major annual gospel music competition. They submitted Every Time I Read My Bible. Not only did Lester's entourage enter the competition (with what would be the winning song that year) but also carried with them a style that was plain ministry. They wore white clothes and red shoes. The red shoes signified the blood of Jesus and the white clothing, the purity of being cleansed from sin.
'After winning the festival, we were known throughout the island. People wanted me to do other tours so I moved by God's speed not by man's speed. I didn't do the song to win the festival, I did the song because I wanted people to read the Bible,' explained Lester. 'It s not in me to run after money; I run after God and he gives me money. ' But prosperity does not come without trials and failings. 'Many churches (in Jamaica) did not have us. Many churches dumped us, didn't want us around. One pastor, after I sang in his church, he took the mic and said, 'Lester I apologize. ' Another pastor came to me and said "Lester, years ago I wouldn't share stage with you. " I was pioneering a new move of God and we now see this move of God affecting the entire universe,' Lester said.
In 1990, Lester was invited to Trinidad, the island that proved to be his launching pad to the Caribbean and the rest of the world. The occasion was a conference that featured speakers and ministers from all over the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and the United States.
'When I get up to sing bwoy'the whole 1200 people stood to their feet and started to dance,' Lester reminisced with a chuckle. Soon he was given an invitation to travel to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Lester not only brought his music, but his proud Jamaicaness. ' He would speak to Oral Roberts in Jamaican patois and would interpret what he said. 'I told Oral Roberts 'Mi gran' modda tell me fi tell yu howdy. ' He said, 'Huh?' Then I would interpret and say my grandmother asked me to say hello to you,' laughed Lester.
Lester and Rose were invited to Nigeria and were treated like kings and queens. He was even given an African name; Obawale which means the King has come home. He even wears the African suit, developing his African heritage. 'They called me yeah man in Africa or the winner man,' Lester said, taken from the chorus of one of his biggest hits Winna Man which was later recorded by internationally known praise and worship singer Ron Kenoly.
Lester's band, Dominion, portrays his mission to combat immoral music in the Caribbean. His aim is to counter all forms of negative music with his powerful message. It is this concept that has prompted him to name the band Dominion. They wish to dominate the worldwide music scene with the positive message of Jesus Christ.
'As a prophet, I speak to those who are producing immoral music to cease their operation,' warned Lester. ' John Lennon and Bob Marley wouldn't be speaking louder than Lester Lewis' I am none of them, I am Lester Lewis. '
Lester's message transcends cultural barriers and is aimed at even leaders of government and those who should regulate law and order in the islands to benefit social development. He has been planting the seeds of reggae gospel and now the world has embraced the music and the message. ' Jamaica was the last to start (reggae gospel),' disclosed Lester. His songs ministered to drug addicts in Bahamas who in turn began reggae gospel on the island. Today, the Bahamas is one of the leading islands in producing reggae gospel.
Lester sacrificed a lot to record music in the early days of his music career. He recorded music in secular music studios and in one studio before he started recording sessions, Lester would gather the engineers together and pray 'loud and strong. ' Even though the owner of that same studio was an atheist, he was receptive to Lester's music. Lester ministered to Papa San, his brother and other secular artists to give their lives to God. 'But all that I was doing there was pioneering and building up the confidence (in prospective reggae gospel artists),' Lester disclosed.
There is more to come from Lester Lewis. He has a new album due called Reorder and he has been around the Caribbean with Lester Lewis and the Singing Rose Ministry Team. He aims to have a leading ministry in the region and, as always, to remain in the Word of God. 'If you don't read the Bible, I want that you can listen to my song and hear the Bible,' Lester said with an affirmative look on his face. His music is primed for world change and bigger than reggae gospel. 'I am a dominator just like what Genesis (in the Bible) says. I come to dominate the earth and to rule,' affirmed a confident Lester.
(Written by Andre Huie)
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No Boundries was the first major label release by Lester Lewis. Though he has been independently recording and releasing cassettes (and now CDs) for many years.
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