FSHN SPOTLIGHT – THE WAILERS
Written By Sason Bishope Parry
When we speak about Reggae music royalty two names immediately come to mind, Bob Markey and The Wailers. Founded in the 60’s Bob Marley and The Wailers brought reggae music to the World and mainstream through countless hits. To say it lightly, The Wailers are true living legends. To see them, to be there in the room with them, is to take a real slice of music history and heritage. When Bob Marley, the man himself, instructs you to ‘keep The Wailers together’, musicians and music fans alike take note. Not many bands can claim genuine legend status. The Wailers, however, can comfortably claim their place in essential music history. Culture gemstones; rebel hearts with brave souls embodying the spirit of 70s era-defining reggae. Aston Barrett Jr. himself reggae royalty carries the flame for The Wailers to this date.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Aston Barrett Jr. is the son of Aston “Familyman” Barrett, who was the bassist for Bob Marley & The Wailers. He is also the nephew of drummer Carlton “Carly” Barrett, and Grandson of the late Joe Higgs (mentor to Bob Marley). He grew up in a mixed family, which was part Rasta and Christian, with his mother encouraging him to study spirituality to learn a strong sense of right and wrong. Reflecting on how music was a central part of the household, he says: “I have an ear for music. Music is in my blood. I was born for music and I live for music.”
The first instrument that Aston decided to pick up was the bass, following in the footsteps of his father and trying to emulate his style. ‘Familyman’ quickly sensed his son’s potential and began teaching him how to play bass, a mentor- student relationship that would continue for years to come.
Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded, toured and made history together between 1972 and 1981. It was Bob Marley himself that requested the Wailers stayed together no matter what. Today, carrying on the mission and the torch are legitimate members, children-of-legends and a host of immensely talented musicians. The afore mentioned Aston Barrett Jr. delivers startling echoes of his uncle’s (Carlton ‘Carly’ Barrett) one drop drumming sound. Guitarist Donald Kinsey is joined by Wendel ‘Junior Jazz’ Ferraro, shaping that classic sonic identity. Josh David Barrett achieves the seemingly impossible by confidently stepping into Bob Marley’s shoes to provide truly excellent lead vocals. Owen ‘Dreadie’ Reid (Julian Marley’s Uprising Band and a former student of ‘Familyman’) and Andres Lopez (Albrosie, Lutan Fyah) add yet more quality to an incredible line up that also includes the youngest of the earliest formation of the Wailers, Tyrone Downie, saxophone player Glen Dacosta and Dennis Thompson, the engineer who was there from the very beginnings of the band. Shema McGregor, daughter of I Three singer Judy Mowatt and Reggae pioneer Freddie McGregor, is joined by Anne-Marie Thompson (a gospel singer of stunning ability), together bringing the smoothest backing vocals and contributing to this unique melting pot, both classic and excitingly fresh at the same time.
Barrett Jr. has used his experience to become the leader of the band, with his father urging him to take on the position so the band’s legacy could thrive into the next generation. With the help of their long time manager Lennie Chen who was also one of Bob Marley’s childhood friends, The Wailers dream became a reality and the rest is the history.
“Wailers music represents peace, love, and unity, that’s what I want to keep alive and through Roots, rock Reggae which defines our sound.” – Aston Barrett Jr.
Expanding on the importance of staying true to the style he states, “I understand the new generation sound, but I play bass more like my father did in the 70’s.” The essence of 70s rebellion, the true spirit of reggae performed by the people who helped forge the era-defining sound and by those raised under their tutelage. Living Legends, Reggae Royalty carrying the flame – now you can be a part of the legacy. When The Wailers come calling, you listen.
The Wailers recently released their first new album in 25 years appropriately entitled, “One World” and produced by 19x Grammy winner Emilio Esteban that was recorded in Crescent Moon Studios in Miami Florida. The idea was spawned by Miami music impresario Joe Risolia who at the time was good friends with The Wailers manager Lennie Chen and had good relations with Emilio Estefan and his family and through these connections the magic started. It’s an exciting new album that features 14 dazzling songs that take listeners on a rollercoaster of emotions and good vibes. The first single, “One World, One Prayer”, is a powerful peace anthem focused on unity, love, togetherness and inclusion beyond cultural differences. It calls for the coming together of “One World” through “One Prayer” and at a period when the World is battling a pandemic and racial unrest, this song could not be more on time. The iconic and legendary Wailers collide worlds with international titan “Farruko”, Jamaican superstar “Shaggy” and continue the “Bob Marley” legacy with Grandson Skip Marley, who sounds exactly like Bob, as well as Cedella Marley, in a song that mixes Jamaica’s reggae with the sounds of Latin urban genre. “One World, One Prayer” was produced and co-written by Emilio Estefan alongside Aston Barrett Jr. and Josh David Barrett.
“Aston Barrett is a true musical leader, in the footsteps of his father, continuing The Wailers musical legacy and in the spirit of Bob Marley, they are right on time with the new album.” – Lennie Chen, The Wailers Manager
The tracks on this project blend together generations of reggae music or as Aston Barrett Jr. calls it “Roots Rock Reggae”, to sound current and modern while still being familiar to fans. The album also features guest artists including Grammy-nominated Julian Marley with Latin-Grammy nominated Natiruts on “When Love is Right,” rising star Emily Estefan, daughter of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, performing lead vocals on “Destiny” and “Good Time”, Kush Gad with a featured verse for “When Love Is Right”, Urban Jazz harmonicist Frederic Yonnet on “When Love Is Right” and “Only in Jamaica”, a featured verse from Jesse Royal on “Good Time”, and from Brazil, the legendary, Carlinhos Brown on percussion for “When Love is Right”. Alongside “One World”, The Wailers also released their second single off the album, “Philosophy of Life.” Much like many songs on the album, the single was both produced and written by Emilio Estefan and is sure to spark more healing energy. Keep an eye out for the music video to be released on September 18.
Currently with the pandemic all live shows are on hiatus except a few live streams here and there, but be sure that when the World opens back up, The Wailers will be on a mission to deliver healing music, their new album and their good vibe sounds to the masses.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Aston Barrett Jr. and talk about their legacy, their new album, Bob Marley, his father Aston “Familyman” Barrett and the current state of the World.
Sason Bishope Parry: How is life treating you brother?
Aston Barrett Jr.: I can’t complain, all I can do is live life to the fullest. Each day is a blessing.
SBP: It’s a crazy World were living in currently with the pandemic and racial unrest, how have you been passing the time?
AB: Meditating a lot, growing, manifesting and staying true to myself, and my roots and working on music.
SBP: The Wailers are reggae royalty and formed with the late great Bob Marley, tell us a bit about your journey and how it all started?
AB: As a young youth, I’ve grown to know my family roots.The appreciation I have for it is like no other. I’m proud and privileged to be the son of Aston “family man” Barrett and the Nephew of Carlton Barrett.I started out playing in an all girls band, school called Holy childhood high.After I moved to America and linked up with the Marley Family and started touring with Julian Marley in the 8th grade.The week I graduated from high school I went on tour with my father and been touring ever since.Then I got in the Berklee School of music, which I did online, as I was on tour. After I was invited to tour with Lauryn Hill for the Rock The Bell Tours in 2011 and 2012. Then I went back with my father and I’ve been with The Wailers since.My father trained me and I took over the band in late 2016.I’ve learned a lot and still learning!
SBP: Who’s currently part of The Wailers today?
AB: – Tyrone Downie one of the originals
– Donald Kinsey, original
– Glen Da Costa, original
– Dennis Thompson, original
– Owen Dreadie Reid who toured with the original Wailers in the 80s also known as my father’s student “Deeadie” Jazz – Lead guitar, who is also my vocal coach.
– Andreas Lopez- Keyboards-Tyrone Downie top Student
– Josh David Barrett- Lead singer also rhythm guitar
– Christian Cowlin- House Engineer
– Currently on Backing Vocals Yashemabeth McGregor- Daughter of the I- Three sister Judy Mowatt, we also have Ann- Marie Thompson and Tamara Barnes.
SBP: Is most of the band living in Jamaica or other areas?
AB: Most of the members are all over the place. I’m currently in Miami. But when it’s time to work, we all come together.
SBP: It’s been 25 years since you released an album tell us how that came together?
AB: Yes man, very exciting time for us. Our new album, “One World” produced by the great Emilio Estefan, a 19 times Grammy award winning producer, has been a blessing. It’s turned out really great with so many, talented artists on the album and lots of good people working to make this happen.
SBP: Tell us about your inspiring first single, “One World, One Prayer” which seems right on time and features Shaggy, Skip Marley, Faruko and Cedella Marley?
AB: Yes, “One World, One Love”, is co-written and produced by the great Emilio Estefan. He came to us with this song about 2 years ago, understanding the same message we stand for which is Love and Unity. The Wailers collaborated with Shaggy, Skip Marley, Cedella Marley and Farruko. It was a vibrant combination of togetherness, positivity and continuous movement of spreading One Love.
SBP: It sounds like your channeling your original sound with Bob on the first single, was that planned?
AB: Well you know, everything is spiritual and the message comes from the most high, the almighty.We are placed in this position to bring forth the message, continuing the path that brother Bob started.Giving this opportunity I can assure you that this music speaks through him.
SBP: Skip Marley sounds so much like his grandfather Bob Marley, that must have struck some emotions and good memories, how was it working with him?
AB: Working with Skip Marley is an honor. He’s very talented, with such powerful vocals. His sound is almost identical to his grandfather, so it’s a blessing to work with him now and more in the future.
SBP: Reggae music is considered healing music and your music is timeless to so many, do you think reggae is making a comeback for a new generation of fans?
AB: I wouldn’t say a come back, reggae has never left.We’ve been the healing method through all genres. Our music is a foundation that cannot be broken down, it touches the heart, soul and mind, and as brother Bob Said.“When it hits you, you feel no pain.”
SBP: Tell us about your last show before the Pandemic and when you think you might be playing live again?
AB: The last show was a blast. I was talking to my tour manager Rich Allis, telling him how much I enjoyed that last run on the road, so it’s funny you ask that question. My father told me to let the band practised Babylon by Bus album.
He wanted us to open up more and from what he thought me I understood what he was saying, and having some of the original members they also help and guide us on that Journey. When we started the tour, it was an amazing energy, we all gather from different places but when we get on that stage the unity is one. Being on the road is something I always look forward to, to see the people on their feet jamming and singing word for words. It makes me know we’re doing a good job.
SBP: Are there any new Reggae acts or artists today that you like?
AB: Yes, I support every artist and talents. Lately, I’m currently in tuned to
Chronixx, Koffee, Jesse Royal, Alborosie and Protoje, but I listen to them all still.
SBP: What was one secret about Bob Marley that people might not know?
AB: Well I guess that secret remains a secret, don’t think it’s my story to tell. Lol
SBP: Do you have any other dreams besides music?
AB: I dream about going back to school one day, to further my education with music and who knows, maybe acting one day the sky is the limit.
SBP: What’s one of your favorite memories of Bob Marley?
AB: Bob passed away before I was born. But from what I have grown to know he touches every soul around him to this day, a true legend and timeless.
SBP: If you could go back in time, what time period would you journey back to?
AB: 1977 I would say. That was an amazing year because it’s the year when the Exodus album came out and considered one the greatest reggae albums of all time. I would have loved to be there, to feel that vibration and to be part of that time.
SBP: What’s next for The Wailers?
The Wailers: Taking the reggae music to other levels, greater heights and reclaiming our foundation and make sure the meaning and our purpose for this music is not forgotten and of course serving the almighty.
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