Is this the loss of creativity we can expect when the dope heads get their way?
Not many bands that come through Boulder are able to cull a playlist from a catalog that has sold more than 250 million albums worldwide. Yet this is what will happen when The Wailers come to town for their nearly annual pilgrimage Dec. 28 at the Fox Theatre.
Most people know the Wailers through the iconic voice of Bob Marley, who rose to fame through a combination of cutting-edge reggae and social consciousness to become a legend of the genre. From 1970 until his death from cancer in 1981, Marley was backed in part by the Barrett brothers, Carlton “Carly” Barrett and Aston “Family Man” Barrett. With Carly on drums and the Family Man providing the bass lines, the Wailers became international sensations with albums like Catch a Fire, Natty Dread and Exodus. Songs like “Stir It Up,” “Lively Up Yourself ” and “Waiting In Vain.”
Since Marley’s death and the subsequent death of brother Carly in 1987, Family Man has carried on his version of the Wailers. Despite a cast of performers that has turned over a few times through can the years, Barrett has been the anchor of a band that will be showcasing a medley of hits and message-laden melodies. As part of their Fox show, the Wailers will be performing Survival, their openly militant 1979 album.
Carrying on the legacy of Bob Marley is an impossible task. Since 2010 Koolant Brown has been bringing his own interpretations to the songs as lead singer of the Wailers, careful not to stray too far from what made the songs such cultural touchstones to begin with.
“I’m like a carrier. I keep on keeping on keeping it alive,” Brown says of continuing the Wailers’ march into history.
“These songs are reality, and it’s a responsibility of me as a younger singer to make it ring in the people’s ears.”
Despite this responsibility, Brown sees audiences young and old who have embraced the world music that has made Jamaica famous. The vibes of reggae seem to be timeless, and never have calls for social justice been so elegantly packaged along with sounds that seem to automatically uplift mood.
On the diverse crowds who come out for the experience, Bob Marley was “a Rasta man who [wasn’t] afraid of speaking the truth, and people want to hear the truth. Generations accept this music with open eyes because it’s a message that they gravitate to, and the sound of the rhythm gives them a joy and lifts their spirits,” Brown says.
On the diverse crowds who show up to hear the Wailers, Brown says it’s a “wonderful feeling to hear the audience cheer for a song, to interact with the audience, touching them and feeling the vibe of what they are feeling too. … I am rewarded [that] we are so greatly received.”
The Wailers travel with a full band, background singers and a keyboardist, Keith Sterling, who fills in any musical gaps. Yet it is the presence of the venerable Barrett who keeps the unit authentic to the roots while allowing for the exploration of individual talents. Despite the gruff exterior, the Family Man has held his charges together longer than many clans do.
“He’s a legend,” Brown says of the band leader. “One thing for sure, when Aston Barrett teach you something, he’s not rough or hard. You learn from him. He’s a wonderful bass player and a good man that people must look up to for his bass lines. This experience [teaches] me to be a greater musician myself and to be a greater writer and greater performer.”
The Wailers have also been involved in the World Food Programme, recording a song for a fundraising album from which proceeds go to helping combat hunger.
It seems a natural fit for a band striving to make change for more than four decades.
“It’s for a worthy cause,” Brown says. “I myself believe that the children are the future. If we can make sure that the children are fed and have a proper education and can be hopeful in society, then everything will be right.”
For the Wailers, there is no use crying over previous losses. The only thing to do is get up, stand up and continue bringing positive sounds to the masses.
The Wailers play the Fox Theatre Dec. 28. Doors at 8:30 p.m.