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08.12.2021 - BUNNY WAILER

The living Legend for I-ver More

Werner Zips

Bunny Wailer
In many African countries, there exists a beautiful phrase for the "great journey in the mystical tradition" that Jah B started in Kingston on March 2, 2021: "He has gone to the village." This transition means no reason for mourning, since relatives and "good friends we lost, along the way)“.i are already waiting there. In Bunny Wailer's case: his lifelong brethrin Robert Nesta and second "partner in global salvation" (not in crime, of course): Peter Tosh (see Youtube: Bunny Wailer Last Emotional Interview). Therefore, I don't want to give in to the pain of loss of never again being privileged to experience Bunny on stage. The following lines pay tribute to one of the most successful lives in the reggae universe.

Soul Rebel of Defiance

Jah B exuded a charismatic presence on stage and in everyday life that would have driven even Pablo Escobar to run for cover (… cause Rasta is taking over). If I had to characterize Jah B with one word, I would choose: DEFIANCE. With all its variety of connotations: rebellion, resistance, disobedience, insubordination, etc.

A true "Soul Rebel." In Bunny's words (from the above Youtube interview): "Well, Soul Rebel is that you have to be one that stands up for what is right, truth, justice. And, under these circumstances you are liable to be labeled as a rebel!" Bunny Wailer’s ensuing outburst of laughter may be seen as more evidence for true defiance.

The stage would have to be built that Bunny Wailer didn't fill with his charisma. Jah B would occupy the entire space with just a bass drum. Their Nyahbinghi name Armagiddeon being scary enough, especially when he himself gave it the thunder voice in many of his live performances.

Bunny Wailer - Reggae Sunsplash 1990

Bunny Wailer at Reggae Sunsplash 1990

Just as he did on the eve of Haile Selassie's 98th birthday with a seemingly never-ending Rasta ceremonial service. The memorable show I am thinking of took place during the Reggae Sunsplash at Montego Bay's Bob Marley Performing Centre on July 22, 1990. It finally ended at about 11h30 AM, not PM, notably. On one bright morning, under the hottest Caribbean sun. It lasted well over two hours and left the stunned audience in a trance-like state: A long night of thirteen hours of top-class performances by the Crème de la Crème of reggae artists at the time was left to the remaining Wailer to finish it off and burn the event into the living memory of thousands of reggae enthusiasts for the rest of their life time.

Reggae Sunsplash 1990 - Poster Bunny Wailer - Reggae Sunsplash 1990

Bunny Wailer - Reggae Sunsplash 1990 Reggae Sunsplash 1990 - Variety Night

Bunny Wailer at Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay - Jamaica - 1990

Being together as one

It was not even Bunny's longest performance. Three hours and more were not uncommon. Perhaps that's why he made himself so scarce. For him, a concert was obviously Revelation in a nutshell. Yet, the nutshell had to be big enough for his lyrical revelations. His core message was about unity - U.N.I.T.Y! According to the Rasta principle: "United we stand, divided we fall!"

On another level, this applied above all to reggae: Jah B performances generally began with Nyahbinghi, touched on kumina, ska, rocksteady, dub, to dwell at length on dancehall and unite everyone in roots reggae. For Bunny: one musical family with different expressions – like branches of the same tree. (All those who play reggae and dancehall off against each other should take note of this). His basic artistic attitude found symbolic expression in the emblematic change of garments. Well into the middle of his act, Bunny typically changed from his priest robe, with a gold medal personally awarded to him by Haile Selassie, into the Rude Bwoy-outfit of the 60s/70s dancehall scene.

Jah B was and is a kind of "Ark of the Testimony" for the indivisibility of reggae, Rastafari and ultimately all humanity. Division and separation were unacceptable faces of apartheid for him. On the highest spiritual level, he complemented Marcus Garvey's "One Aim, One God, One Destiny" with "One People, One Race, One Earth." Centered on Africa, the origin of humanity and Dreamland of its abducted daughters and sons.

Right: Bunny Wailer on the cover of the 1996 edition of the "Kauderwelsch" series. The picture wasn't even named in the title description.
Kauderwelsch Band 59 - Patois

His “appearances” on stage, in the truest sense of the notion, bear ample witness to this. Concerts were therefore for him a microcosm of the union of all people, regardless of skin colors, religions, nations and other demarcations: "We proved that we can be together as one."

Reggae Baptism

I conducted the following, previously unpublished interview at the occasion of “Spring Vibration” in Wiesen/Burgenland on May 24, 1997. His highly anticipated first concert in Austria amounted to a communal reggae baptism act. It fitted words spoken by Jah Bunny himself more than a decade before, when he and his audience celebrated his very first overseas appearance (in California in 1986): "Today is reggae Baptism. I'm gonna baptize you in some holy holy reggae water" (handed down through a report by Roger Steffens in Reggae Report). Reggae/Rasta baptisms of sort were not isolated incidents during his career and perhaps refer to the unconscious legacy of his esteemed father Thaddeus "Shut" Livingston, a revival leader with his own church in St. Ann (see David Katz in RIDDIM magazine, 02/17).

On that day in May 1997, it felt like a unique reggae revelation, when Jah B took over from Damian and Julian Marley, Buju Banton and Israel Vibration, who had delivered memorable performance before. Accordingly, I would describe my state of mind in memory. Not ideal conditions for the "one chance in a lifetime" to conduct an interview with "The Living Legend" Jah B. How do you get into an interview with someone you, ... hmm, deeply admire (to say the least)? I would gladly sweep my patriotic introductory question under a red-gold-green carpet today, had Bunny's answer not been as simple as it was profound:

Interview May 24th, 1997ii

I believe we experienced your first appearance in Austria. After a career spanning well over thirty years.

Well, you know, a thousand years are sometimes like a single evening, this evening, you know. All the better to be here now, after receiving my third Grammy for the album "Hall of Fame - Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary".

1997 - Spring Vibration - Wiesen - Austria Buny Wailer - Spring Vibration 1997

Bunny Wailer at Spring Vibration in Wiesen - May 24th, 1997 - Interview with Werner Zips

Speaking about that …

You know, he is all our brother. And he has left with us such a great legacy of good music and good culture. Forming part of this, I have been acquainted with Bob from the age of nine and I have been with him through the Wailers history. I feel satisfied to have been with one who has left us such a great legacy. And to be still here, to be establishing what the Wailers stood for, I feel good.

A lot of people don't realize there's still an original Wailer alive and well, when they talk about Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Yes, there is a remaining Wailer who is trying to keep the Wailers fire burning. I think the world should know and be fully aware by now that Bunny Wailer is an original Wailer: Once a Wailer, he is always going to be a Wailer. Still, I realize that without the Wailers, I would only be Bunny.

You never leave out the Rude Boy era as an important part of the early Wailers’ story.

No, because that's the foundation. A tree can bear fruit, but we have to focus on the root, because without a root there's no fruit.

With your dancehall albums, you paved the way for the resurrection of Rastafari in dancehall. Was that a matter close to your heart?

Yeah, because the music comes from the heart of Ethiopians and people all over the world love to dance. Dancing is the expression that moves the heart, the mind, the soul and the spirit. Reggae music is not just about sending messages. True, it is about history, truth and rights. But it also wants people to dance to it and enjoy themselves. Because the root of music is first of all to appeal to children. Even if they don't understand the language, they understand the music. So, the musical part of the message is to know that dancehall is where reggae music started. Because the Wailers' first song was "Simmer Down" (1964) and that was a dance record.iii And is still a dance record to this day and age. So, there's nothing negative to say about dancehall.

But most of the time, people express themselves as people feel themselves fit to express themselves and everyone has that right. This right cannot be denied to anyone. But then again, we who know better must do better. To make sure that we keep the moral sense of things floating, always ensuring that the right things are there for the generations to accept so that we can be sure of a moral future. So, the dancehall we can’t get rid of, but all we need to do, is to make sure that we bring cultural authentic music to the dancehall.

Bunny Wailer & Werner Zips - 1997

Bunny Wailer & Werner Zips on May 24th, 1997 at Spring Vibration in Wiesen

It is often claimed that the Wailers were under the spiritual guidance and mentorship of Mortimer "Kumi" Planno.

No, not Mortimer Planno, but Joe Higgs. Mortimer Planno was a Rastafarian leader. But when it come to the Wailers music, Joe Higgs was the man responsible for teaching us music. Planno was more on a religious connection where the Wailers was concerned. Not artistically anyway. And as far as the Wailers development musically was concerned, Joe Higgs was the man who was responsible for the Wailers’ early development, the musical development of the Wailers in their early days in Trenchtown, first street, second street, third street, fourth street, fifth street, sixth street, right up to 13th street. Joe Higgs was the man.

Why is Trenchtown such a special place for reggae?

Yeah, it is a special place, but they have turned it into a dream. And somehow the people who originated in Trenchtown are the ones who knew what Trenchtown was like, before it has become what it is today. It was a place for a poor man life to be lived. It is a place that although it was for the lesser privileged people, it was that kind of a place that made you feel like you were in Hollywood, ‘cause everything was happening around you. Anything that you could possibly think of was happening in Trenchtown. Everything! What I think is that the politicians, the political activism, the gun culture that these people brought into these communities, was a deliberate plan.

Bunny Wailer & Bob Marley - Wall Of Honour - Trenchtown

Bunny Wailer & Bob Marley among other legends on the Wall Of Honour in Trenchtown, Kingston - 2008

The Wailers history is told by so many people who were not part and parcel of the Wailers. How do you feel about it?

History has been distorted, ‘cause people say things that they heard and they don’t talk what they know, but only what they heard. But to know things is a different situation. Actually, you have to talk to the people who were present at the time when the Wailers were actually recruited. To know how they were recruited, who were members, who were not actually accepted but they were still recruited. There is a lot of things that a lot of people don’t know about, they don’t know the people and they don’t know, what happened. But they say things that are not right.

Like Timothy Wright, he writes a lot of fictitious garbage. He has messed up a lot of people with that, because he tells stories that don’t go anywhere like that, not even close. He has written that Catch of Fire book that has distorted a lot of truths, so we are yet to see, if we can make sure, that these natural abuses, which were written for the excitement of people, will eventually make people want to read more. What people read they believe. But then again, is it the truth? That’s another story. So, I could sit here and talk about the Wailers’ history forever and ever and ever. And then now, you could compare all what I said, with what you heard and then you would say: what are these people talking about? Because Bunny Wailer does not say anything like what these people are talking about. And Bunny Wailer should know, ‘cause he is the only one left alive to tell the tale or to tell the story.

Well, you know, the world will still have to overstand the reality of the Rastaman!

>>> Live Video: Interview with Jah B online and live on stage in Wiesen/Austria - Bunny Wailer - Once A Wailer, Always A Wailer – A Riddim Livication to Jah B - In Riddim TV

Bunny Wailer - Summerjam - 04.07.2009 Bunny Wailer - Summerjam - 04.07.2009

Bunny Wailer on the Red Stage at Summerjam in Cologne on July 4th, 2009

Keep on moving, Jah B!

Like many other reggae elder statesmen, Jah B felt increasingly misunderstood, not least in Jamaica. His claim to leadership not only in reggae but in dancehall - "I've been ruling dancehall ever since you were a child" (Rule Dancehall, 1986) – did not go down well with subsequent generations.

Bunny Wailer experienced the low point of his career seven years before the above interview – at the 1991 Sting, the annual all-night live dancehall craze in Portmore. The unthinkable happened, when one of the founding fathers of Reggae became humiliated by a shower of bottles to force him off-stage. The self-acclaimed “Greatest One-Night Reggae Show on Earth”) was notorious for such "stoning incidents”. But the ruthless disrespect for the “living legend” Jah B indeed sent the event into deep crisis. Figuratively speaking, the Rude Bwoy dress code of the 60s/70s, which Jah B changed into during the show, no longer corresponded to the "King’s new clothes" in (then) contemporary dancehall arenas.

His resurrection as Reggae Messiah was only a "moment in time" away, when he took revenge by releasing a hit tune hitting hard on the Sting audience. The song Dance Massive (1992) provided an inevitable dancehall judgement full of deep metaphors in Jah Rastafari name:

“I wonder who encourage you fe go fling (bottles) ah Sting …
Some ah de dancehall massives don't know what dem want....
Dem even disrespect one of their own Reggae King
Dem build up x-rated lyrics and dem lick it down flat
Fling, fling, fling, and now dem damage Sting
Some ah walk, some ah ride, some come inna limousine …
Whip dem all, me say everything mash
Bye, bye, bye, whip dem all, me say everything crash …
Dem haffi get a beating, dem mus’ get a beating!
We no want no left- or right-wing activism,
Fi come pollute dis yah reggae riddim,
Stay wid de reggae riddim, cause dis yah music was sent by the King
We haffi careful what we do, we haffi careful weh we say,
Whether we are a Singer, Rapper or DeeJay …,
Simmer down, dance massive, hold your temper ...,
Simmer down, or you may mek reggae suffer,
Simmer down, simmer down, simmer down!”iv

Incidents like this bottling and criticism of his dancehall glorification in Jamaica made him seem reserved to the public and media, perhaps even "grumpy" in some eyes. From the singular personal experience of the above conversation/interview and from witnessing many of his public appearances, however, I cannot confirm this at all. In my eyes, he radiated pure love, without hesitating for a moment, of course, to assert his position, when tested as the original “Soul Rebel”. In his own words (Bunny Wailer: Rule Dancehall, 1986):

“Come make me show you how fi ram dancehall, gwaan
Come make me teach you how fi rule them all, gallang, gallang, gallang
I've been ruling dancehall ever since you were a child
So don't come try to dictate to I about dancehall style
East, West, North, and South
It is I who wears the crown
I play original style while others play version
I've wounded many a sound,
called King Kong son of a gun
Many more did come and many more had to run
So, I'll advise you not to try to get in my way,
You'll be defeated, you'll never play what I play”v

Live Video: Bunny Wailer - 2015 in YAAM Berlin - Rule Dancehall or Ram Dancehall

Bunny Wailer - YAAM Berlin - 2015

Bunny Wailer on August 20th, 2015 in YAAM Berlin

Normally, on such occasions one ends with the pious wish: R.I.P. In the case of Jah B this seems to me infinitely inappropriate. Rather I wish for what he stood for all his lifetime: "Keep on moving!” In order, to shake up the world for I-ver more. Everliving!"

Live Video: Bunny Wailer - 2015 in YAAM Berlin - Keep On Moving

More Live-Videos with Bunny Wailer: YAAM Berlin on August, 20th, 2015 - Here

i Bob Marley, No Woman No Cry (auf dem Album Bob Marley & The Wailers: Natty Dread. Island records, 1974).
ii See the interview with Jah B online: Bunny Wailer: Once A Wailer, Always A Wailer – A Riddim Livication to Jah B. In: Riddim TV:
iii The Wailing Wailers: Simmer Down (on the album: The Wailing Wailers, Jamaica Recording Studio, Studio 1, 1965).
iv Bunny Wailer: Dance Massive (on the album: Dance Massive, Shanachie Records, 1992). v Bunny Wailer: Rule Dancehall (on the album: Rule Dancehall, Solomonic Music, 1986).

On the Author:

Werner Zips is Editor of the book „ Rastafari. A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millennium” (Ian Randle Publishers, 2006) and Author of „Hail di Riddim – Reportagen aus dem Reggaeversum JamaicAfrica“ (Promedia, 2015).
These works are only a selection from numerous publications, as they fit the topic.

Werner Zips - Rastafari Werner Zips - Hail Di Riddim

Text: Werner Zips
Photos: Werner Zips, Peter Joachim
Videos: Peter Joachim


Bunny Wailer - Reincarnated Souls - 2013Bunny Wailer - Cross Culture - 2009Bunny Wailer - Black Heart Man - 2009Bunny Wailer - Rub-A-Dub - 2007Bunny Wailer - Rock-N-Groove - 2007Bunny Wailer - Combination Vol. 1 - 2007Bob Marley And The Wailers - Soul Revolution Part II - 2004Bunny Wailer - World Peace - 2003Bunny Wailer - Communication - 2000Bunny Wailer - Dubd'sco Vol. 1 & 2 - 1999Bunny Wailer - Hall Of Fame - 1995The Wailing Wailers - 1994Bunny Wailer - Crucial Roots Classics - 1994The Wailers - The Never Ending Wailers - 1993Bunny Wailer - Dance Massive - 1992Bunny Wailer - Gumption - 1991Bunny Wailer - Time Will Tell - A Tribute To Bob Marley - 1990Bunny Wailer - Just Be Nice - 1990Bunny Wailer - Liberation - 1988Bob Marley And The Wailers - Soul Revolution 1 And 2 - 1988Bunny Wailer - Rule Dance Hall - 1987Bunny Wailer - Rootsman Skanking - 1987Bunny Wailer - Marketplace - 1985Bunny Wailer - Roots Radics Rockers Reggae - 1983Bunny Wailer - Live - 1983Bunny Wailer - Hook Line & Sinker - 1982Bunny Wailer - Tribute - 1981Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers - 1981Bunny Wailer - Rock-N-Groove - 1981Bunny Wailer - Dubd'sco Vol. 2 - 1981Bunny Wailer - In I Fathers House - 1979Bunny Wailer - Struggle - 1978Bunny Wailer - Dubd'sco Vol. 1 - 1978Bunny Wailer - Protest - 1977Bunny Wailer - Black Heart Man - 1976Bob Marley And The Wailers - Rasta Revolution - 1974Bob Marley Ant The Wailers - Catch A Fire - 1973Bob Marley And The Wailers - Burnin´ - 1973Bob Marley And The Wailers - African Herbsman - 1973Bob Marley And The Wailers - Soul Revolution - 1972The Best Of The Wailers - 1971Bob Marley And The Wailers - Soul Revolution Part II - 1971Bob Marley And The Wailers - Soul Rebels - 1970The Wailing Wailers - 1965