The sound of a bass guitar echoes across the crowd and a Rasta man stands in front of a mic belting out wails of adversity, struggle, liberation and triumph. It could be any Reggae band but its 1974 and the world is about to hear the infectious sound of Bob Marley and The Wailers.
Reggae music has captivated the world with contemporaries such as Luciano, Jah Cure, Morgan Heritage and Third World performing to thousands of fans throughout the years, but one band has reigned supreme in the house of Reggae music for more than thirty years – this in a genre that has seen many changes. The music of Bob Marley and The Wailers has sold in excess of 250 million albums worldwide, and in England alone they have had over twenty chart hits, including seven Top 10 placements. The band is in constant evolution, changing to contend with modern themes and tasks yet one thing remains constant – the music of liberation and the echoes of Bob Marley that continues to bring joy to millions.
The man credited with the creation and evolution of The Wailers, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, believes that music will always reign supreme in the minds of the people: “Reggae music is the heartbeat of the people, it is the universal language that carries the message of roots, culture and realty and is for all ages and time, past present and future. They ask me how can I do if for so long and I reply that our music is timeless and like the moon, the older it gets the brighter it shines.
Family Man’s essential one-drop rhythms have infiltrated everything from rave to rock. On the album ‘Babylon by Bus’, while not one of the most popular compilations, his talent and influence is pronounced. Recorded live during The Wailers’ 1978 world tour, ‘Babylon by Bus’ was driven by Family Man’s immense tone and amazing feel. He and The Wailers laid down some of the swankiest grooves ever heard which are evident on classics such as Exodus, Stir It Up, Is This Love, and Jammin. While naming the album as one of the ten essential bass recordings, Basspalyer.com says it’s an essential listen for every bass player: “This disc is one of the best-recorded examples of live bass: it’s deep, clear, and well placed in the mix, a real sub woofer delight! Throughout the record, Family Man’s ’70s J-Bass surrounds the audience with a thick throb”.
Now, far from 56 Hope Road and 29 years since the death of Bob Marley, Jamaica’s biggest musical export continues to grow from strength to strength and still tour the world extensively. The Wailers have performed with international acts such as Sting, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, as well as reggae legends Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear. Their most recent collaborators include country music star Kenny Chesney, rapper Eve, indie star Jason Mraz and acoustic soul singer Colbie Caillat. The impact The Wailers’ music has had over the decades transcends generations, international borders and musical genres. In fact, one of the greatest rock bassists, Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, credits Family Man and the Wailers as a significant influence. The Wailers were also the first Reggae band to be invited to the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Over the years, The Wailers have toured almost every day and played to an estimated 24 million people across the globe, with pioneering performances in Africa and the Far East. The Wailers have also continued to fulfil the vision initially set out by Bob Marley and Family Man, and added several new vocalists and musicians to reinvigorate the ensemble. Recently The Wailers welcomed their latest lead singer, Koolant.
Koolant, who hails from Bath and Wilmington in St. Thomas, sees being chosen as lead singer for The Wailers as a dream come true. He says: “It’s Bob Marley’s music and it has been a part of my life since I was a youngster. To be able to be in this position now is a great honour and to know that The Wailers want me beside them is a humbling feeling and because music is my strength I know this will be a great combination”.
Family Man remains the heart of the band, continuing to be the connection between the past and present. Currently The Wailers remain strong with Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass, Koolant and Danglin as lead vocals, Keith Sterling on keyboards, Aston Barrett Jr. On organ, Anthony Watson on drums, Audley Chisholm on rhythm guitar and Maria Smith and Racquel Hinds as backing vocalists.
With almost four decades behind them, The Wailers now look to the future. The band are working on their latest album, a yet to be titled compilation of new music, which they promise will maintain the rich heritage that has made them a worldwide fascination.
The new album will feature the new voice of The Wailers, Koolant, with the first single: A Step for Mankind, which is a collaborative effort with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). It was written by rising Reggae star Duane Stephenson, who is also featured on the track along with Koolant. The track stands as a symbol of the band’s concern for humanity and their desire to help the WFP combat world hunger.