Oye Thursday 04. March 2021:
Neville O’Riley Livingston, otherwise known as Bunny Wailer, is one of the greatest reggae music icons. He died two days ago to complete the transition to glory of the Wailing Wailers of the early 1960s Jamaica.
The Wailers were founded by Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh in 1963. Wailer was the youngest and the last surviving founding member after Marley died of brain cancer in 1981, and Tosh was murdered by a robber in 1987.
The Wailers were of the same age grade. Peter was born in 1944, Bob in 1945, and Bunny in 1947. Their impact on the world music stage is now common knowledge. I would rather now express my thanks to Wailer & co. because of the impact they had in my life.
I was holidaying in Lagos when Bob Marley died in 1981. As I boarded my bus back to Onitsha, hawkers were peddling all manner of Bob Marley memorabilia on the streets and parks.
Then, I was not a fan of Bob Marley’s, or even of reggae music. I am not sure I even paid attention to reggae by chance. For at the time, I was a fan of Igbo and Euro-American music genres. Ocassionally, I did hear Yoruba and Ghana music over the radio, but those did not appeal to me either.
Then, boom! I heard Peter Tosh at the right time, I guess. I will never forget where, when, and what I heard that converted me to straight reggae right away. The sound track was “Stepping Razor”, the year was 1982 (the year after Marley’s death), the time was about 8 pm, and the place was Uncle Felix Nwaru’s corner store.
I asked Mr. Nwaru to show me the cassette he was playing; and he did. The picture profile of a black man in beret hat and dreadlocks, and behind a welder’s goggles, was also emblazoned on my mind forever. I bought the cassette and other Peter Tosh’s the next day and began my journey to imbibing the synoptic gospels of Jah Rastafari.
From then on I became a Rastafarian. Though I could not grow dreadlocks due to my strict large family, I still tried to grow one after I graduated and got a job in Lagos. I returned home for Christmas, had a haircut, and strolled miles to Nwangene (with my cousin and age mate, who was wrapping up his medical school) to wash, pray, and anoint my head with holy water ahead of livicating (dedicating) my locks from then on to I’n’I.
But that was not to be because I returned to Lagos to discover that I could not have dreadlocks if I was to earn a living and pay my bills. However, my other cousin and kindred spirit, Chukwudi Okudo, carried through with his own livication until job employment also stopped him.
My reggae name was Obbsman (Herbsman) Skanking. And I did skank to Jah Rastafari for 14 years; from 1982 to 1996 that I reconverted to Christianity.
In my day, there was no Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer album available I did not have. I also had all of I-Roy, U-Roy, Burning Spear, Toots & the Maytals, Culture, Dilinger, Prince Mohammed, Jimmy Cliff, Max Romeo, Dennis Brown, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Mighty Diamonds, Third World, The Cimarons, etc.
I did not, however, have much of stars such as Gregory Isaac, Jonny Nash, and Eric Donaldson because dem a fe come ina Babylon style.
Of all of them, however, the tracks I enjoyed over and over were Prince Mohammed’s “Natty Dread on a Forty Leg ina im Head” and “Your Mama is a Hooligan”; U-Roy’s “Running Around the Town with Tom, Dick, and Harry”; Peter Tosh’s “Mystic Man”; and Bob Marley’s “Ride Natty Ride.”
My favorite Bunny Wailer album was Blackheart Man, which included classic songs such as “Dreamland” and “Fighting Against Conviction.”
May the gentle souls of the Jamaican roots reggae musicians rest in perfect peace.
By Chuma Oguagha