Reggae music has never stopped evolving but for millions of people from around the world it’s still defined by the songs of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s been their heartbeat rhythms that have inspired so much of what’s followed since, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of the “one-drop” reggae sound.
The history of the band during Marley’s lifetime is well known. Just to recap, their music has sold in excess of 250 million albums worldwide. In England alone, they’ve notched up over twenty chart hits, including seven Top 10 entries. This was no accident. Apart from Marley, the Wailers have performed with international acts such as Sting, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, as well as reggae legends Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear. Their most recent collaborators include Kenny Chesney, Eve, Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat. They’ve also completed innumerable tours over the years, playing to an estimated 24 million people across the globe, including groundbreaking performances in Africa and the Far East.
The anchor of the band is Aston “Family Man” Barrett, who in addition to being Marley’s most trusted lieutenant, played on countless other classic reggae hits throughout the seventies. The authenticity he brings to the Wailers’ sound is indisputable and yet today’s line-up combines old school know-how with lead vocals from one of Jamaica’s most exciting new singers.
Koolant joined the Wailers soon after his cameo appearance in the film Made In Jamaica. A solo track, Rat Race, was getting regular airplay and things were looking up for this young Rasta artist from St. Thomas, who’d already performed at East Fest and several other major stage shows in Jamaica. His first recording was Keep The Faith produced by Morgan Heritage, who included it on their 2002 album Family & Friends Vol. 3. By then, he’d gained valuable experience from entering national song competitions and was writing his own material, inspired by reggae’s golden era.
“As a youth coming up people always say, ‘How come you don’t listen to any new artists?’” he recalls. “They say I’m always listening to some Jacob Miller, Barrington Levy or Bob Marley. They were amazed I knew so many of those old songs but after I leave school I like to go amongst bigger people and so I just naturally gravitate towards vintage music. I like how it’s the backbone of what’s happening now too, because those old classics never die.”
Like Marley, Koolant spent his formative years in the Jamaican countryside. He was raised between Bath and Wilmington, some thirty miles outside Kingston. After singing in school he was inspired by Bushman, who lived nearby. Local fame beckoned but it’s Koolant’s dynamic performances with the Wailers that have reaped most acclaim to date.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, singing with the Wailers because so many of Bob Marley’s songs are still relevant to what’s happening right now. They are of the times,” he continues. “Bob Marley was a prophet, and it’s a honor to be part of that. I put my whole self into spreading that message, and it can only help my own development as an artist and as a songwriter.”
As enthusiastic audiences have already discovered, Koolant brings his own personal expression to Marley’s songs, revitalizing them for young and old alike. Yet there’s a great deal more to the Wailers than reliving the past. Apart from featuring on a forthcoming Wailers’ album studded with celebrity guest artists, Koolant sings lead vocals on the band’s two latest tracks – one a future lovers’ rock classic called Shining Star, and the other a heartfelt appeal – A Step For Mankind – made on behalf of the World Food Program, co-starring Duane Stephenson.
Both songs stand comparison with the band’s finest work from the past. The Wailers have succeeded in turning a fresh page and led by their charismatic new singer, they’re ready to make history once more.