The terms ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’ are too easily used in this day and age. They are exclusive terms that should be applied sparingly and bestowed upon those who have elevated the collective consciousness. Bob Marley & The Wailers created music that has left an indelible mark on popular culture and whose message continues to resonate with people 40 years after their inception.
Although, Bob Marley passed in 1981, The Wailers continue to record and tour – ensuring that the message of peace, love and unity is still heard today. They are currently led by Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett but have now incorporated a new generation with ‘Family Man’s’ son, Aston Barrett Jnr now playing in place of his uncle, Carly Barrett on drums.
We caught up with Aston Barrett Jnr to discuss The Wailers’ Liverpool 02 Academy show, the legacy of Bob Marley, and spreading Marley’s message of peace, love and equality to a new generation of fans.
Q. The Wailers are about to start a world tour. Having played music for over 40 years, what is it about The Wailers’ music that still endures to this day?
The message. Always the message of love, peace and unity. The fundamental message of reggae music is very spiritual, and it brings enlightenment to those places that rest in the shadows. There was an old belief that we should beat down Babylon, but things have evolved. We must say stand firm in Babylon and inspire people to do good things in these troubled times – to stay positive and spread the message of love, peace and unity. This is why The Wailers will always be relevant and why people will always be drawn to them.
Q. As part of the tour, you will be playing Liverpool’s 02 Academy. What have been your experiences of Liverpool and what are your thoughts on its musical history?
I have played in Liverpool before and I have to say, it’s one of my favourite places to return to. Like many people, my understanding the history of Liverpool’s music has a lot to do with The Beatles – the music they created then was so rich and of such a high quality. It’s rare to find that level of song writing in the present age.
However, I hear you tell me of the growth of reggae music in the city and I am not surprised by that. Reggae is universal and it crosses all barriers and boundaries and I’m looking forward to bringing our reggae sound and playing for those people.
Q. It would have been Bob Marley’s 73rd birthday this year. How do you reflect on Bob Marley’s legacy?
Bob Marley’s music will always be there. With the help of The Wailers, Bob was able to truly get his message across to the world. Remember, a lot of people who loved Bob’s music did not speak English so how did they understand it? It’s because (at a deep deep level) we are all stimulated through the sound of the music.
My father and uncle are from a tribe from Jamaica called the Maroon tribe and they are a highly spiritual people and that is felt in the music. The bass and the drum sound speak to the spirit and this is what became the vehicle for Bob to send out his message and this will always be important for people’s understanding of the world.
Q. Both your father (Aston Barrett) and your uncle (Carly Barrett) are legendary figures in reggae and were integral to establishing The Wailers’ sound. How big a responsibility is it carrying on their work?
Since I was born I already knew what I was going to do. Once you really know your destiny you have to do god’s work and nothing or no one can come between it.
It wasn’t my idea to play music and carry on the message. I believe that when you come into this life you have to travel through an energy and that my spirit was chosen before I came to earth; that my future was written There were times I wanted to give up but, I couldn’t find anything inside me to give up. I don’t do it for anything, but the music and you can hear that in the authenticity in the sound.
The respect that I have for my father and uncle is very high, meaning that it’s my job to keep that frequency of the original Barrett sound – the rhythm of that bass and those drums is essential. If that’s not there, then The Wailers’ music is not there and that shows you how dominant that sound is. My job is to honour them, keep that sound and respect its timelessness and the frequency that made Bob Marley’s message reach and international audience.
Q. Coming back to the music, what is your favourite song to play on stage as part of The Wailers?
It has to be Lively Up Yourself because no matter what you’re going through that song has so much energy. You just can’t help but dance. It’s not too fast and it’s not too slow – just very blues, rocky and reggae.
Q. There was a split in The Wailers ‘brand’ for a few years with other bands using The Wailers name. Has that now been resolved and what are your thoughts on time?
We are The Wailers and we carry that sound but I’m not directly putting myself out as we’re on the top. I respect all of The Wailers but, we have all available members except one. In terms of the other person, that’s Al Anderson and I hear it’s very hard to work with him and people struggle with it. We tried to work with him but it proved impossible.
Remember that Wailers speak of peace, love and unity and that’s why we didn’t take him to court because he needs to live, and we don’t want him to suffer. The real reason that people respect the dominancy of our sound as the Wailers is because we have captured that Barrett sound and essentially that Wailers. Al Anderson is a nice guy, but you never know when he’s gonna switch. We are on our journey and people recognise the truth, but we still have love and respect and only wish good things for Al Anderson.
Q. In terms of disputes, there was also the court case between your father, Aston Barrett, Island Records and the Bob Marley estate. What was the story there and how was it resolved?
When Bob died there was nothing left in terms of signed papers. I think that Bob would have wanted that and to have certain people fight for the legacy – to see who were the real people who wanted to continue to send out the message.
There was a lot of trouble after Bob died, especially with the Jamaican mafia and also the political aspects of the country. Remember, the music they were playing wanted to clean that up, clear the corruption and spread the message of unity. However, after Bob passed things grew more and more difficult.
In terms of the court case, my father didn’t get what he deserved but that whole journey with the court case was done in the wrong way. The way to look at it is that he didn’t lose the court case, it was more a case of he wasn’t supposed to win – for the right reasons. In the end he was badly advised. The Marley family are family to us and it was never a dispute with them. They are our family and that has all been resolved and that unity is still strong.
Q. As a member of the next generation, what lessons have you learned from those disputes?
In terms of the business side I have learned a lot; I’m a lot stricter. I don’t talk a lot in these meetings, but I listen and when there’s an issue I get in front of it and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. My father made sure we went to good schools, so we could understand these situations.
Q. Finally, it’s currently snowing here in the UK, I hope you’re prepared for the weather?
Believe me, my friend I’m getting myself prepared!
For details and tickets for The Wailers world tour click here.