Still relevant

Toben Shelby

The Wailers are known to many fans as the band that performed with cultural icon Bob Marley, traveling the globe and selling hundreds of millions of albums during reggae music's heyday.

The Wailers continue to spread their good vibes with a musical message the band hopes everyone can relate to 30 years after Marley's death.

The ever-evolving group returns to Alaska for four shows in the midst of a rigorous summer tour.

While one can't talk properly about the Wailers without mentioning Marley, the reverse is also true. The Wailers likely wouldn't be nearly as well known without the notoriety of having been Bob Marley's band, but Marley may not have achieved his level of stardom without the contributions of the group, especially band leader Aston "Family Man" Barrett.

It was Barrett who not only provided bass for Marley's songs but also helped the singer-songwriter with arrangements and co-produced many of his albums.

While Marley and the Wailers found international success and fame with their style of music, the group had to deal with its fair share of criticism during the early years.

"Even as we comin' up as young musician(s), you know, and playing this type of music we play, is like at first other musicians berate us ... Say we only can play two chords," Barrett told the Jas Obrecht Music Archive blog in February. "And I say, 'Yes! I agree. But which two chords? With what tempo? And what riff?' That what make(s) it so special."

Barrett went on to say that while Marley may not have considered himself a "prettified singer," he was great at expressing himself within song and music.

Marley died in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981, of cancer at age 36, but his spirit lives on in the Wailers, as they continue to share his music. Over the years, the Wailers have had members come and go and have sought out new artists to contribute to the band.

That includes Barrington Brown, better known as Koolant to fans, who's recently been providing vocals for the group. Koolant is very aware of who came before him and has no illusions about his role with the Wailers.

"There is no filling the shoes," he said in a January interview with the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. "His (Marley's) shoes are way too big for one man or 10 men to fill. We try to bring the music, an energetic performance. But I've never even thought of filling the shoes of such a great performer, such a great man. It is an honor for me to sing his songs."

Marley's songs are decades old at this point, but the Wailers believe the message found in that music remains relevant and will continue to maintain meaning in the future.

As a result, the group contributed the song "A Step for Mankind" to the 2010 album "Solutions for Dreamers: Season 3," with the album proceeds benefiting the World Food Programme, an organization within the United Nations that provides food to a reported 90 million people annually, including 58 million children.

"I think Bob Marley was a prophet. A lot of people would say that. People are still suffering, there's still injustice," Koolant said in that same Lincoln Journal Star interview. "As long as that is around, the music will be relevant."

By Toben Shelby
Daily News correspondent