The Wailers Are a Living History of Reggae

The WailersEXPAND
The Wailers
Courtesy Raygun Agency
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It's been more than four decades since Bob Marley & the Wailers' inception and 36 years since the death of their founder and guiding star, but the band continues to spread the positive messages of reggae.

Guitarists Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey are acutely aware of the significance of their early days playing alongside one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century. "What I could feel from the music was that there was a very positive energy," Kinsey says. "It was a different message in the music, and it was a different rhythm."

He still sounds giddy when he speaks of those days. His breath wavers and his voice pitches up with excitement as memories flood back. "It was an event — to come and to feel that... I tell people that for me, every time I hit the stage, it felt like a revival."

Junior Marvin recalls feeling that the Wailers had invented a new sound, but he's careful to acknowledge the influences. "The history of Jamaican music comes from British church music. Back in the slavery times, [slaves] were only allowed to sing gospel songs, and they weren't allowed to play the drums because people were afraid that they might be sending messages to each other and revolt."

This, Marvin says — along with diverse influences from calypso, Cuban and Haitian music, and Motown — accounted for the new rhythms and sound.

That rhythm attracted the attention of a young Josh Barrett, who was turned on to the Wailers' music by his brother as a youth and joined the band as a vocalist and guitarist in 2014. Remaining grounded in the history of their ancestors is important to the Wailers, and for Barrett, understanding the anthropological aspects of reggae's rhythm is a key to its legacy. "It's important that we don't forget the struggle that brought about this music. Because of its popularity, it can easily become fanfare," he says. "When you hear the stories about the freedom-fighters in Zimbabwe who were inspired by the Wailers' music, and young Rasta youth still coming out of Jamaica who listen to Bob Marley's music and gravitate toward Rasta, the spirituality [of the music] is what helped during certain political struggles."

Kinsey sounds more like a missionary than a musician when discussing the band's early work.

"We were, you can say, like soldiers," he says. "We were determined to bring this music forth to the masses of the people. I never will forget: We landed in Chicago, I picked up Billboard magazine, and 'Roots, Rock, Reggae' had made it to the Top 100 Billboard charts, man, and we rejoiced!... Within the lyrics of that song, it says, 'We're bubblin' on the Top 100!' It just goes to show you that the Almighty was telling us all along that it was going to make it into the Top 100. Ain't that something?"

The Wailers
8 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; 561-832-9999; sub-culture.org/respectable-street. Tickets cost $25 to $30 via ticketfly.com.

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