Jamaican singer and percussionist Bunny Wailer, a legend of ‘reggae’, passed away today, at the age of 73, at Andrew’s Memorial Hospital in Kingston, which marks the end of an era for this musical movement.
The news was released by Jamaican Culture Minister Olivia Grange, who did not mention the causes of the death of this founder of the group The Wailers, with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who made reggae a worldwide phenomenon.
With the real name Neville Livingston, this musician had a first stroke (stroke) in 2018 and a second in July 2020. He was the only survivor of that historic trio.
Born in 1947, on the Nine Mile, in northern Jamaica, Bunny Wailer had known Bob Marley since childhood, with whom he had friendly relations. Later, his father became the companion of Bob Marley’s mother.
They moved to Trench Town, a neighborhood in the capital, where they were influenced by their encounter with Joe Higgs, considered by many to be the ‘father of reggae’, who encouraged them to form a first trio with Peter Tosh.
“He took time out of his own career to convey his knowledge of harmonic techniques to us,” explained Bunny Wailer during an interview in 2013. None of the then three teenagers had received any musical training.
The group changed its name a few times, before the first album, which came out in 1965, with the designation “The Wailing Wailers”, something like “The Lamentable Wailers”.
The album marked the emergence of a sound, with a hellish rhythm, marked by American music, namely R&B (‘Rhythm and blues’), but also by Jamaican culture.
Charismatic character, always with a beard and a hat, adept at the principles of the Rasta religious movement, Bunny Wailer played a decisive role in the elaboration of this musical identity.
“We lost an icon,” reacted Herbie Harris, leader of the Jamaican reggae group ATF Band. “It is a pity that the young people who are part of the Jamaican music scene do not know the contribution of Bunny Wailer”, he lamented.
During an interview, also in 2013, the musician had explained that he had voluntarily minimized himself when the Wailers were formed.
“All members of the group had leadership qualities,” he said then. “But we needed a sound that, when we heard the group, if we knew it was the Wailers. And with Bob (Marley) we had that sound.”
The Wailers knew success from the beginning, with titles like ‘One Love’, still with a ska sound, a musical genre that preceded ‘reggae’. The title was re-recorded for Bob Marley’s 19977 album ‘Exodus’ and became a worldwide hit.
After their first album, the Wailers published several more before starting to collaborate with producer Chris Blackwell.
The founder of the Island Records brand evolved the group’s sound, to give it a more electric sound, and a way to please, he said, a more international audience.
Bunny Wailer is on the albums ‘Catch a Fire’ and ‘Burnin’, which transformed ‘reggae’ into a relevant musical movement.
But then he leaves the group, like Peter Tosh, tired of Bob Marley’s helper role, in which he felt closed.
He then launched his solo career, with the album “Blackheart Man”, considered today as a classic of the genre.
In the 1990s, he received three Grammy Awards, distinctions from the North American music industry, two of which for the album ‘reggae’ of the year.
Until his first stroke, he regularly performed on stage, with his voice becoming more and more hoarse.
For Jamaican journalist Karyl Walker, “Bunny Wailer was a more complete musician than Bob Marley. He played a lot of instruments and wrote very good songs.”
Now, he lamented, “all Wailers are dead and it is the turn of the new generation of Jamaican musicians to honor this heritage and raise the bar”.