Final wail: Bunny remembered for social advocacy
Reggae icon Bunny Wailer’s legacy extends beyond his music and was largely influenced by radicalisation having been born in the 1940s at a time when the pressures of colonial life weighed heavily on poor black people.
Born Neville Livingston, the acclaimed singer and social activist died on March 2, days after Jamaica and the world celebrated Black History Month and, within it, Reggae Month.
He was 73.
Bunny Wailer, of the Wailers fame, a group he formed the late Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, has often been described as the more spiritual and mystic of the trio.
A three-time Grammy Award winner, Bunny Wailer was at the forefront of reggae and was often the loudest voice in dialogue about race and class.
He was the youngest of the three and had outlived Marley and Tosh by more than three decades.
Bunny Wailer was born on April 10, 1947, in Nine Miles, St Ann, but grew up in the gritty inner city of Trench Town where Marley’s mother, Cedella, lived with Livingston’s father, Thaddeus, as companions.
In Trench Town, Bunny Wailer had first-hand experience of how Jamaica’s colonial rule undercut the black masses and it was that which lit the flame of resistance music and social commentary.
In 1973, the dreadlocks-sporting Wailers released the album Catch A Fire, which had tracks such as Slave Driver and Concrete Jungle.
“Jamaican popular music produced a number of persons who grew up around the time of pre-Independence, but who grew up and articulated a way of thinking, a way of knowing and a way of acting that is anti-colonial, that is more in the interest of service of the will and aspiration of back people,” Professor Clinton Hutton told The Gleaner on Tuesday.
“Bunny Wailer was certainly one of those people.”
But Blackheart Man, Bunny Wailer’s debut album, which was released in 1976, perhaps best summed up his life as a musical icon who stood for black pride when Jamaica struggled to find its identity.
“ Blackheart Man is not just one of the best LPs produced in terms of its content and its aesthetics produced in Jamaica, but in the world. The black-heart man is really a narrative of not the tribulation but determination of Rastafari,” Hutton contended.
“He is linked to that native radical tradition of struggle, of ideas, of psychology. What he has done is to articulate a philosophy of Jamaica and citizenship that is rooted in the principles of self-reliance of pride in black and black sovereignty,” he added.
A couple years before his passing, Bunny Wailer advocated that the Government pass copyright laws to enable artiste to reclaim lost value after 35 years.
The reggae singer also pushed for the establishment of a national museum.
“Build a proper museum legacy structure that can generate wealth for the veteran artistes, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Bunny Wailer said in 2017 after being inducted in the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s third-highest national award.
In that same year he had converted a space at his home into a museum.
Bunny Wailer had been in and out of the hospital since suffering his second stroke in 2020.
That stroke affected the left side of his body.
He is survived by 13 children, 10 sisters, three brothers, and grandchildren.
Jean Watt, who had been Bunny Wailer’s companion for five decades, went missing in May. She had dementia.
Bunny Wailer was bestowed with the Order of Merit in 2017.