March 03, 2021
The Jamaican star, who has died aged 73, returned to his roots after global fame with Bob Marley to deepen and diversify reggae with a powerful sense of creative freedom
The brilliant Bunny Wailer pushed reggae forward on his own terms
The documentary film fire in Babylon, the story of the West Indies Cricket team of the 70s and 80s, is peppered with contributions from that all-conquering side, but the show was comprehensively stolen less than five minutes in by the nattily dressed Bunny Wailer sitting on a boulder. He is eloquent and insightful, talking about the significance of that team to black people in the Caribbean but increasingly loses his cool with a dog barking off camera. In a flash, the articulate academic tones disappear, he whips off his dark glasses and shouts “Clap him again!” Then, almost smirkingly, uses this as an analogy for how Jamaicans approach cricket.
The dog has a cameo later in the film, only for Wailer to almost affectionately shoo it away, and it’s all as vivid an illustration as anything musical of who he was: smart, drily funny, not to be trifled with but not really as fierce as he came across. Indeed, it was as much a balance of personalities among Bunny, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley that made their group the Wailers so appealing: Tosh, a six-foot-seven streak of barely controlled anger; Marley a quasi-hippie who understood the rock world, and the pragmatic Bunny, who valued his artistic and sociopolitical freedom.
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