Original Wailer says Beenie, Bounty, and Sean Paul are “Lollipop Stuff.”
When it comes to living legends, nobody can test Neville Livingston a.k.a. Bunny Wailer. At age 62, Bunny’s the last man standing from the original Wailing Wailers trio that put reggae music on the map internationally. Jah B recently announced plans to offer his entire back catalog for online download in association with Zojak World Wide, and as part of the promotional push, he took time out to reason with Boomshots.com. Needless to say, it was a lively conversation (check VIBE’s August issue for more highlights). Meanwhile, here’s a little taste of his thoughts about the state of reggae music. Who the cap fit, let them wear it.
Boomshots: AS AN ORIGINAL MEMBER OF THE WAILERS, PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS SEE YOU AS A ROOTSMAN, BUT YOU ALSO EXPLORED DANCEHALL STYLE OVER THE YEARS. I LOVE THAT ROCK ‘N’ GROOVE ALBUM YOU DID WITH THE ROOTS RADICS BAND.
Bunny Wailer: Yeah well you know dancehall is the original trend, custom, and culture of the Jamaican people. It comes to mostly the city people. Cuz you know sound systems didn’t arrive in the country areas until things got more civilized within that respect. So the dancehall really mattered where the city was, and that was in Kingston. As an early child I use to go dance, maybe at the age of 4. I use to sneak and go out with my bigger sister to listen to sound systems like Tom the Great Sebastian. To listen to V Rocket. There was a sound called Vick. Those sounds were early, long before Duke Reid and Downbeat and Prince Buster—but they came along afterwards and put more vibrancy in the dancehall situation because they were not just sound-system operators, but they were also producers, record producers. Buster did some good stuff with Stranger Cole and all those guys but his main thing was Prince Buster. And then Duke Reid, he had a portion of the talent on his label and Coxone had another portion of the talent on his list—and people go from label to label to trying to get a better deal, ya know.
HOW DO YOU RATE TODAY’S MUSIC COMAPRED TO THE MUSIC OF THAT ERA?
A lot of people today call themselves engineers and are running studios but they’re far away from the reality. Ya know, the sounds are not clean and there’s distortion and there’s too much of this and too little of that. The engineers don’t have the ears and the ability to separate the music in a way that is distinct and nothing is fusing with anything else, ya know—the frequencies are in their own stations. And nowadays engineers haven’t learned that yet. They are just jumping up on the music because of the drum machine situation and doing over riddims that have been done already so it’s a copy-cat type of disposable stuff that’s happening right now. There’s no artist creation coming out of the music.
SO YOU DON’T HEAR ANY YOUNGER ARTISTS WHO INTEREST YOU? WHAT ABOUT A BUJU OR A TARRUS RILEY?
I’m hearing some youths who are trying, you know, like Natural Black, Lutan Fyah, Fantan Mojah. You know? Anthony B.
SO MOSTLY THE ROOTS MAN IN THE DANCEHALL.
These brothers are trying to do a little different from just copy-catting. Luciano… All these little boys. There’s quite a few brothers there that has walk on that route of the Wailers. So, although there is so much other stuff happening that is labeled reggae—and we know that it’s just a label because some of these stuff don’t even have no identity of whatever music they are—but they just call it reggae because it does come out of Jamaica. You know, like this stuff that guys like Beenie Man and all these other people are producing —and that is what’s making the airwaves and making the money at this time because that’s what’s pushed on the consumer as far as what comes out of Jamaica. There’s still good recordings made in Jamaica, but the revolution that has taken place is exhibiting Sean Paul and Bounty Killer and, you know, Shaggy. And all that music is just lollipop stuff. That’s cotton candy music. That’s disposable music. Those music cannot be stored. If you put them down it’s gonna rot. You’re not gonna be able to take them up thirty years from now, and they still are the same gold that they ever were. Like how you could take up a Wailers or a Bob Andy or John Holt or Alton Ellis or any of these old-time-religion artists and they still keep you moving. So we have yet to see where the new generation of artists and the musicians coming out of the reggae breed… You know, this is what comes from the reggae seed but it’s bearing some fruits and bringing out some trees that you have to wonder where they came from. [laughs]
WELL I HAVE TO SAY, IN DEFENSE OF DANCEHALL, THERE ARE MANY DANCEHALL SONGS THAT ARE CLASSICS THAT WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME.
Well you see, I don’t wanna get caught up in that. I didn’t say anything about dancehall. I’m talking about just the music coming out of Jamaica at this time, which is labeled reggae. Cause even these ones that are dancehall are labeled reggae. But a lot of people are seeming to forget that reggae is dancehall. Ya know? Because these nowadays music that they are calling dancehall… there is no halls to dance, number one, because violence has torn down all the halls around the corporate area, and people ain’t dancin’. It’s like choreographing. Everyone doing the same one move. One move comes in by Bogle or one of these guys and everybody’s doing that. That’s not dancin’… Dancin’ is your body language when you hear the music, how your body reacts. That’s dancin’. So you know everybody couldn’t be doing the same… everybody couldn’t be hearing and feeling the same way and making that same move. That’s bionic. You know I’m saying? That’s artificial. When we were in the dancehalls of Coxsone, when we were in the dancehall of Duke Reid, Prince Buster, and all those days… We used to hear hardcore ska music coming out of those dancehalls and we had to dance or self-destruct. If you had three pieces on, all three pieces were wet. Nowadays dancehall people go there clean and leave there the same way. That’s no dance—that’s bullshit. So I don’t see no dancing happening right now. And anytime you go to the dancehall and you put on an old record, people start dancin’. If you were to play one of these nowadays type dancehall stuff then you find that everybody doing the same dance. And if you would just change and put on like a “Rock ‘N’ Groove” or a “Cool Runnings,” you see the mood of the people just change and everybody start dancin’.[audio:https://www.boomshots.com/tunes/CoolRunnings.mp3]
Awwwwwwwww check that. Good. Nowadays what dem call dancehall and everybody doing the same move—that’s foolishness. So we have yet to realize when we say dancehall what we are talking about. Because when I touch the stage, if you come in there in a wheelchair, you better move your toe if your toe is alive, or your finger if your finger is alive, or you wanna get up out of that wheelchair and dance. That’s what I call dancehall.
WHAT’S YOUR OWN BIGGEST DANCEHALL TUNE?
There’s a track called “Rule Dancehall.” If I didn’t do another track in my time I could live off that one track. Every sound system who were just born, or who was born long ago, or who intend to born, want to rule dancehall. And “Rule Dancehall” was done from way back in 1979.
IS IT THAT OLD REALLY?
Yes Rule Dancehall album—that’s way back. Yes, family. And that track in 2009, which is 30 years later, is the baddest dancehall song. The baddest. Nuttin’ can test that… I tell you say, it is so bad that people just wanna have it to know they have it.
OH, AND BY THE WAY, IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING… BOOMSHOTS HAVE IT. STAY TUNED AND MAYBE WE’LL GET THAT ONE DIGITIZED SOON.