The enduring legacy of Bob Marley and The Wailers: ‘There is medicine within the music'

The Original Wailers will perform in Dubai later this month

If there is a band to lift our spirits in the face of the pandemic, it’s The Wailers.

Arguably reggae’s biggest group and once led by the late singer Bob Marley, the collective are responsible for many of the genre’s standard hits including Could You Be Loved and No Woman, No Cry.

Playing the signature guitar riffs and driving solo in the latter is Al Anderson, an American recruited by Marley to join the all-Jamaican group in 1974 for a two-year spell.

Anderson is now the leader of the group – which performs under the name The Original Wailers – as they return to the UAE for a Friday show at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

Speaking to The National, Anderson expresses amazement at how people gravitated towards The Wailers’ catalogue during the pandemic, particularly Bob Marley and The Wailers' 1984 compilation Legend.

“The album has always done well for nearly 40 years, but with the pandemic it really went off the charts, so to speak. It shows that there is a medicine within the music people that people need,” he says.

"People have used these songs as a form of meditation. When we returned for live shows, they would come to us and describe how the music we created helped them feel secure. We are just grateful our vibration reached so many people."

A team game

A key reason for that longevity is that although the concert posters and album covers read Bob Marley and The Wailers, the frontman knew the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

That realisation was not entirely surprising. The Wailers were essentially a super-group without initially knowing it.

Formed in 1963, the band spawned four musicians who would go on to become reggae superstars in their own right.

In addition to Marley, this includes singer and guitarist Peter Tosh who was tragically gunned down in Jamaica in 1987, the late percussionist Bunny Wailer who died in March from health complications aged 73, and pioneering bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett who has been retired since 2019.

With Marley’s death from cancer in 1981, the group continued with various formations as Anderson was left as the sole original member remaining.

Despite his stature, Anderson is a team player in a band filled with a new generation of talent, including Caribbean vocalist Chet Samuel and US bassist Omar Lopez.

“The concept of our show is how The Wailers has been and really is a group. We want to show the group’s magic is about that chemistry with people like Bob, Peter and Bunny," he says.

Respecting the masters

Approaching it that way allowed The Original Wailers to evolve and blaze their own path with their 2012 release Miracle receiving a Grammy nod for Best Reggae Album.

A beneficiary of that approach is Lopez, who probably has one the hardest jobs in the group in channelling Barrett’s inventive basslines on classic tracks I Shot the Sherriff (1973) and Exodus in 1978.

"I did my due diligence and studied those basslines and different variations heard in past concerts and the studio versions," he says.

"The thing with 'Family Man' is that he is so articulate in what he plays and he was so creative with it, so I view my role really as finding the essence of the basslines – in the truest sense of the composition – and then maybe modernising them or embellishing it with my own accent."

While the bands were digging into the hits, The Original Wailers used the time away during the pandemic to finish the yet untitled planned follow up to Miracle.

Those hoping for a preview of the new tunes will have to wait for the next tour as the album is not ready for the stage.

"We don't have a horn section coming with us on this tour and they played a leading role in this album," he says.

"We also used a whole bunch of other instruments such as the (Afro-Cuban drums and Caribbean percussion instruments) congas and timbales as well as the fundeh and akete, and without those elements you won’t get the whole pie, but the crust.”

It also means The Original Wailers will return to Dubai at some stage only bigger and better.

“We will bring more players with us on the road the next time,” he says.

"We always love coming to Dubai because it has everything I love: food, culture, the souqs and so many cultural things you can get lost in."

The Original Wailers perform at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Friday, November 19 at 9pm. Tickets begin from Dh95 from www.bookmyshow.com

Updated: November 16th 2021, 1:23 PM