Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Order of Merit for change - Bunny Wailer insists on rewards for veteran entertainers

Published:Monday | October 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Bunny Wailer (left), Bob Marley (centre), and Peter Tosh as The Wailers.
Neville O'Reilly 'Bunny Wailer' Livingstone (right), OJ, CD, being awarded the Order of Merit, Jamaica's fourth highest national honour, by Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen (left) at Kings House on National Heroes Day. for his outstanding contribution in the field of popular music.

The Hon Neville Livingstone, more popularly known as 'Bunny Wailer', was bestowed with the Order of Merit (OM) on National Heroes Day. Wailer who has already received the Order of Distinction (Commander class, CD) and the Order of Jamaica (OJ), says this recent recognition means a lot to him and he was happy he was able to receive it personally.

"The OM is one of the highest honours and has to be well earned, based on value of contribution. It means a lot to me as it puts me in line with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who received theirs in 1981 and 2012, respectively, and reunites us in terms of accomplishment," he said. Wailer pointed out that Jimmy Cliff is the only other living reggae artiste with an OM.

However, Wailer said that too often veteran entertainers are recognised for their contributions posthumously, and wants the powers that be to do better in that regard. Inner Circle, The Mighty Diamond, Black Uhuru, Nadine Sutherland, Earl 'Chinna' Smith, Eric 'Monty' Morris were named among the entertainers who have made significant contributions to the country's culture and are yet to receive a national honour.

However, having expressed the need for more entertainers to be recognised while they are alive, Wailer said even more than showering veteran entertainers with honours, awards and accolades; the country and the music industry should do more to secure their legacies.

He wants the Government, as well as key industry players, to help veteran entertainers reclaim some of their royalties, as their music is still selling but are not benefiting them. "We carry that burden of seeing so many pass and they cannot even afford a funeral, but their music is still selling as catalogues all over the world. As veterans, we did not have the knowledge or society laws like copyright and intellectual property for our contribution, so there are no contracts or publishing agreements that leave anything for the estates of veterans," he lamented.

"So more than any national honour, which cannot become the measuring stick for the music industry, the recapture of the copyrights of the veterans would be what I advocate for."

Wailer believes the Government should pass a law similar to that recently invoked in the United States where, after 35 years, an entertainer can reclaim their copyrights. In addition, the singer wants the Government to establish a 'proper' music museum to assist in the preservation of the music and to carry on the legacies of its creators.

"Build a proper museum legacy structure that can generate wealth for the veteran artistes, like the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Merchandising, compilations, events from this museum/hall of fame can go specifically to support the welfare of the veteran artistes. This would give the veterans and their estates a new source of making a living through tourism," he said.

"My Order Of Merit award's biggest impact is how it empowers me to reclaim the catalogue copyrights and legacy of The Wailers from the dustbin of the music industry. A proper national museum would not allow for these types of things to happen and, where it has, it would be corrected by a proper historical timeline provided by the research and curation related to a museum. Everyone is in an immediate state of shock when they come to my Wailer's Museum and learn the true history of the group. So I know first-hand what the power of a national museum would give to the veterans of Jamaica's music," Wailer said.

He also urged young artistes to assist their musical forefathers in gaining some knowledge on the business of music. "Artistes should plan better, but the circumstances of the business that veteran artistes found themselves in Jamaica didn't allow us to do that," he said. "The new artistes have had the benefit of the foundation that we created, not just in the creativity, but the business."