Playing the King’s Music
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As the son of Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Wailers multi-instrumentalist Aston Barrett Jr. is part of a musical lineage that goes directly back to Bob Marley.
Barrett Jr.’s father was part of the second incarnation of The Wailers, the one that Marley formed in 1974 after Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh left the fold.
Should Barrett Jr. leave the band, however, his father could fortify the family business from a pool of more than 40 other offspring.
The Wailers will perform at The Clyde Theatre on June 27.
Barrett Jr. said he loves the idea that he has so many siblings out there.
“Brothers and sisters, it’s really nice to know, and it’s also great to know they’re every race, as well,” Barrett Jr. told the Sag Harbor Express. “The unity is what we want, and it’s just nice. I could go to Switzerland, have brothers and sisters there; England, brothers and sisters; Jamaica, America, brothers and sisters. It’s nice. It’s really nice.
“We all try to bond, you know? Some of them we don’t know, some of them we know of,” he said. “You just have to get to the ones who are on the same wavelength, because you can’t have everyone on the same wavelength. There’s a lot of us, so you’re gonna have everyone doing something different.”
After Marley’s death in 1974, The Wailers continued to tour with various lineups. There were even two incarnations of the band for a time, one lead by the senior Barrett and one lead by Al Anderson and Junior Martin.
The lead singer of The Wailers these days is Joshua David Barrett who is not one of the aforementioned 40 plus. Barrett Jr. describes him as a distant cousin.
Joshua was fronting his own act called Judah’s Tribe when he encountered Barrett Jr. backstage at a concert.
Realizing their shared DNA, the two struck up a friendship.
“From that time, we did keep the link,” Joshua said. “It was like a reunion for us, realizing that we are distant cousins. We discussed from that time doing works …”
Joshua was asked to join The Wailers in 2014.
Joshua said Barrett Jr. coached him in how best to represent Marley’s music vocally.
“He was working with Family Man and kind of keeping him posted what I was doing in terms of preparing myself, sending songs every now and again just to hear the rest,” he told the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin. “I also took vocal lessons at the time, too — I was doing more bass playing at the time than singing. I would check in every now and again and make them hear my progress. I have to say, Aston Barrett Jr. is a great coach in that wise.”
Barrett Jr.’s father has a history of legally wrangling over songwriting royalties with Island Records and Marley’s estate.
Barrett Jr. said the band’s focus these days is “doing good.”
“A lot of bad things came in our band after Bob died,” he said. “A lot of evil try to come in, and a lot of it came in, and it took a while to come out. The reason why it came out is because of what the music represents. That’s the power of Bob Marley and the Wailers.”
Barrett Jr. prefers to focus on the spiritual satisfactions of performing this music.
“I don’t want to just play. I want to feel,” he told the Winston-Salem Journal. “Money really has no meaning now … The most important thing is saving the earth. The Wailers want to bring unity back to every culture. We need to get connected to the earth and stop killing it.”
Joshua, a Rastafarian, added that he believes reggae is religious music.
“Through Rasta culture, using biblical philosophy, we rise up in love, spirituality, familyhood — even politics,” he said. “As singers, we are psalmists; we take the words and put them to a melody. It is the King’s music.”
In these perilous times of church and school shootings, people need The Wailers’ music more than ever, Joshua said.
“We are still the voice of the people,” he said. “Word, sound and power.”
“We must stay strong and stand firm,” Barrett Jr. said. “Our music has to go out. We have to help.”
The world needs a band like The Wailers to enlighten it, Barrett Jr. said.
“Whatever’s going on in the world, it needs that therapy,” he said. “We’re like natural, musical, earthy therapy.”