Friday, August 13, 2004

Bunny Wailer, one of the original Wailers with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, finally makes it to Hawaii.

Reggae star
at the Shell

Wailer was in the trio
with Marley and Tosh

The Wailers may have been one of the world's most popular bands, because their music was, well, so much more than just music. It was reggae, an incantation of potent lyrics in support of social justice and mesmerizing rhythm steeped in the African-inflected blend of religiosity and politics known as Rastafarianism.

'Reggae in Paradise'

Featuring Bunny Wailer, Luciano, Dean Fraser and Mikey General

Where: Waikiki Shell

When: 4 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $35

Call: 591-2211

Even though two of the core Wailer trio are no longer around -- superstar Bob Marley succumbed to cancer in 1981 and "bad bwai" Peter Tosh fell victim to a madman's bullet in 1987 -- only Neville O'Reilly Livingstone, aka Bunny Wailer, carries on the legacy.

"I cannot take responsibility for the achievement of the Wailers, because it is all about reggae, and reggae is all about life. We are all just a vessel in the arms of reggae, a gift from I-and-I in the glory of the most high, Jah Rastafari!" Livingstone says, speaking by phone on the eve of his first-ever Hawaii performance.

Livingstone clarifies that although this is his first appearance in the islands, he has felt from afar the wildly receptive vibe that locals give to his music. "The message of reggae penetrates easy in islands because the isolation is a protection from all the wires and electronics that create the illusion of civilization," he says.

The spiraling and sermonizing conversation we have with the surviving Wailer is also an indication of his approach to concertizing. After more than a decade hiatus from Wailer fame on the road, the man has returned to live performance with a decided penchant for incendiary preaching.

He premiered his roots orthodoxy at the 1990 Sunsplash Festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica where, after five days and five nights in a Woodstock-sized field of reggae dreams, bleary concertgoers were jolted awake to the sight of Bunny Wailer, robed in white and gold, stalking the stage with fiery criticism for vulgar dance hall music, the newest branch of reggae popular with the younger generation.

"Prophecy is always positive, so if I warn you that driving fast will lead to a bad crash, I am not saying you will crash. I am preventing you from crashing," says the man who is approaching his 60s.

Asked to reminisce about the beginnings of the Wailers, Livingstone mentions his family and church in the village of Nine Miles in Jamaica's mountainous interior of St. Ann's parish. "I would be a hypocrite if I did not say that what I do goes back to the church, where I first felt the aura of Jah through music."

It was also Nine Miles that Livingstone became buddies with the young Robert Nesta Marley. From age 9, they shared the same ambition to form a band. When both were relocated to Kingston by family members, they met Peter Tosh and formed the Wailers.

The band, even in its early days, was provocative enough to incite a lionshare of intrigue and jealousy. At one point, Livingstone's strident denunciation of police corruption led to his being arrested and jailed on trumped up drug charges. The experience moved him closer to the Rastafarian mindset, though he also says he briefly contemplated going to college to study law at one point before favoring "attending the university of music."

His output in recent years has been modest, even if his 1991 collection of Marley songs did earn him a Grammy. When he recorded his most recent CD, "Communication," he decided to bypass stores and sell it directly to fans. He says he is more interested in wisdom. "If you pursue money instead of these, you stand the chance of losing all your money, and then you'll really have nothing -- not even wisdom."

He seems to accept other perks of fame with a certain aplomb, including his recent experience of being knighted by the Queen of England -- the same authority of the crown that was responsible for his stint in a Jamaican jail.

Not a day goes by, he says, when he ceases to feel the presence of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. He speaks to them and relies on them for their wisdom. But as for why he is the one to carry on in their physical absence, he does not speculate.

"There are some things that are just part of the plan, things that go back to my mother's womb and before that and before that and before that to the Creator, Jah Rastafari! Now let me say I am looking forward to this remarkable concert. Come and make we a joyful noise and jump to the glory of Jah Rastafari!"

Neal S. Blaisdell - Waikiki Shell

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