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Every little thing's alright for the Wailers; Q&A
The Wailers is a name spoken with reverence -- in reggae and, in fact, all of popular music.
Most know it as the two works that come after "Bob Marley and...," and the association was certainly responsible for a catalog of definitive music, even as the membership changed over its years. Bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton "Carly" Barrett also operated as the Wailers Band, a moniker for the instrumental force behind the original Wailers incarnation of Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
Honoring Marley's request that the band stay together after his death in 1981, the Wailers have maintained a touring presence, with progeny and students of earlier lineup carrying the torch. It's led these days by Aston Barrett Jr., a 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist and producer who's also worked with Stephen Marley, Julian Marley and other contemporary reggae luminaries. His Wailers -- with distant cousin Josh David Barrett in Marley's place as lead vocalist -- has just released a new album, "One World," the group's first in more than 25 years and co-produced with Emilio Estefan. The 14-song set features guest appearances by several Marleys (Julian, Skip and Cedella), Emily Estefan and others, and Barrett Jr. voices confidence that it won't be another quarter century before there's more new Wailers music to hear...
"One World's" been a long time coming. How does it feel to have it out?
Barrett: It feels really good, man. We put the work in and we finally got all the final pieces together. It was just the right time. Emilio guided us and had a deadline for us to release the album, so everything went smoothly. We just do the work, you know?
Given the bloodlines involved, you kind of know what a Wailers album is supposed to be, right?
Barrett: Bob Marley and the Wailers' music is universal, universal to all ages. We wanted to portray that and still do the same thing in a way that's still preaching peace, love and unity. That's what Bob Marley and the Wailers music did, and we wanted to do that for a new generation...because some of the music today can be a little harsh, you know? What Emilio said to me, eye to eye, is that a lot of good lyrics arenít' being made, or if they're being made, they're not being known. So when we went into the studio we had one mind.
How did Emilio come to be part of this?
Barrett: We got an offer to do a show in the Miami district, for the Estefan Kitchen, where they put on free concerts. We said yes, and when e got there a guy came up and said, 'Hey, do you want to do something with Emily,' who's Gloria and Emilio's kid. "She can sing?" "Yeah, man, she's great." So, "OK, we'll try it" and when we got to rehearsals she started singing and we're like, "Whoa! This girl sounds like Gloria, but the new thing, the new generation." She had that uniqueness about her. So we did the show and Emilio was blown way -- Gloria as well. He came to us and said, "Reggae's coming back, in a different way. I would love to help you guys, 'cause the show you did was amazing." that's how it started. He invited us to the studio and after that he wanted us to meet Sony Latin and we just kept going.
Did you have anything in motion before that?
Barrett: There are five songs on the album I produced with Josh that he and I were working on when we were still working for my fathers, songs such as 'Stand Firm Inna Babylon' and 'Can't Get I Got.' We have a lot of roots songs that sound like Bob Marley and the Wailers, but we wanted to branch out different on this one -- that's why we hired a producer. Emilio said, "Alright, I'll help you guys finish up the album and you started and add some song and bring it up a level, which he did. We already knew what we had was great, but we had no idea it was gonna be at this level. We learned a lot working with Emilio.
You spoke about the spirit of the music the Wailers made in the past. It seems like now, in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest, it's exactly the right time to hear these kinds of songs.
Barret: That's true. We want to make music everlasting. We don't want to just make a hit today, 'cause then you have to make more hits again. You want to have something that will be preserved, like the Beatles music is preserved, Bob Marley and the Wailers' music is preserved, a lot of great music from bands back in the '70s...There's so much music today where they have to do remixes 'cause they don't have the ability to make those kind of songs, that will be everlasting.
Do you feel like you're the steward of this music, and its heritage?
Barrett: I look on my life as I was put here to save the Wallers sound. I was chosen. I don't know why, but I don't question it. I'm just doing Ja's work, as I say. I don't question anything. I keep a lot of elders around me to keep me in line. We're very family oriented, which is what Bob Marley and the Wailers were like, too. What we're doing now is making a new frame and still keeping the respect of Bob Marley.
Sounds like a tall order.
Barrett: I have a hard position to keep because I don't have only one Wailers to keep. I have three, which is Family Man, which is my father, Carlton Barrett and Joe Higgs. That's three foundations I need to keep. A lot of the inside work was done by those three, and Bob was the one pushing the message out there. He was the face, and they were the frame. You have many kingdoms there; Bob is the king of reggae, Joe Higgs is the godfather of reggae, Carlton Barrett is the kind of reggae drums and Family Man is the king of reggae bass. Bob Marley's legacy is preserved; His family is doing a fabulous job. My job is to preserve my family foundation and legacy, but in a trinity together with Bob and Carlton and Family Man. It's like those kings back in the days when they had many wives; Once the king died (Aston Barrett is retired), the son is responsible for all those wives.
What did you learn about playing from your father?
Barrett: Feel, and sound. And discipline. He was like ("The Karate Kid's") Mr. Miyagi. Some days my pay was low 'cause I didn't clean the bass guitar or I didn't set up the amplifier correctly. I had to learn the difference of the highs and treble, the high, mid and low-mid -- so many different things we have to learn when somebody is playing reggae bass. It's not just, "Turn on the bass and you'll have reggae." If you listen to my father, all his bass lines have clarity. You have to have clarity -- even in the organ. A lot of people just push out the 8 button in the drive bar and think it's reggae. That's why the Wailers music was very different. It's very organized, very specific.
What's next for the Wailers?
Barrett: This next album will come much quicker. We've already started on it, and it's going to be amazing. I don't know what the concept of it is yet. I don't know what Emilio has planned, but he's been guiding us the right way so we're excited. In the meantime I'm still working with the Marley family; You're gonna hear stuff from them, different artists in the family, and they'll keep this music alive and moving forward, too.
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