Few bands are as universally beloved as the Wailers. They were assembled by Bob Marley alongside Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1963, and there's a good chance you would never have heard of reggae without them.
After Marley's death from cancer at age 36 in 1981, the Wailers kept jamming, led by bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Barrett's brother, drummer Carlton Barrett. Now there's a new iteration of the band, led by Aston Barrett Jr., that has released the Wailers' first album in a quarter-century, One World.
Though the younger Barrett had been working as a professional musician since he was in middle school touring with both Julian Marley and Lauryn Hill, he admits he wasn't sure he was up to leading the Wailers.
"I was scared people would say, 'You weren't born yet when Bob Marley died — how can you be the Wailers?'" Barrett tells New Times. "My dad respected Bob Marley so much. He told me, 'Nothing people can say if you keep his sound alive.' I want to keep that sound alive."
Barrett joined the Wailers in 2009. He calls his father his Mr. Miyagi after the mentor figure actor Pat Morita portrayed in The Karate Kid — a master who taught him greatness only comes from hard work and attention to detail.
"He trained me hard," Barrett says. "He used to pay me on tour with him. One week my pay was low. I asked him why. He said, 'Because you didn't clean my bass; you didn't set it upright.'"
Beyond learning discipline, Barrett also picked his father's brain on musical history. The son displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the Wailers' history. He goes into great detail about why Rastaman Vibration has the best mix of all the Bob Marley albums and how his uncle came up with the distinctive drumming on the song "One Drop." Like many musical greats who died young, Bob Marley has been deified, but Aston Barrett Jr. learned about Bob Marley the human being.
"I could write many, many books. I heard stories even his family don't know," he says, laughing.
One story in particular sticks with Barrett.
"On the Survival album, my father and Bob stopped talking," he recounts. "There were four songs without my father or uncle on it. People were whispering in Bob's ear that my dad was trying to break up the band because of that."
Barrett was stunned that Marley never apologized to his father for using other musicians on the record. Barrett Sr. told his son being in a band means never having to say you're sorry.
"After it all, Bob called my father and brought him a big bag of herb. The look on Bob's face said it. Once he gives you the herb, it's like the peace pipe in Native American tradition," Barrett continues. "That story helps me a lot. Bands need unity. That's what we have in our band. But bands also have to be careful about things tearing you apart."
These 21st-century Wailers believe they're doing the band's legacy proud with One World. Produced by Emilio Estefan, the album features guest spots by Julian Marley, Farruko, and Shaggy.
"With the Wailers' name on it, everything had to be high-quality," Barret says. "The writing, the production, the mixing."
Barrett has lived in South Florida since he was 11 years old, so it was a pleasant surprise when a fellow Miami resident offered to produce.
"Emilio had studied the music and was a big fan and reached out to us," he explains.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The collaboration was a fruitful one.
"The original song he brought us, 'One World, One Prayer,' in the demo was more reggaeton — we had to reggae-fy it," Barrett says. "But the song was so powerful we named the album after it — especially with the history, since the Wailers' anthem is 'One Love.'"
Barrett hopes One World spreads positivity amid troubled times.
"A lot of the new generation is looking for a way to go. The Wailers are here for them," he says. "We have no category. We are not new; we're not old — we're just there."