Bunny Wailer – A Reminiscence


Bunny Wailer. Photocredit:Heather McGhee on Twitter and Google

Tik’ya the blackheart man, children
I say don’t go near him
Tik’ya the blackheart man, little children
For even lions fear him…

Followed by a rhythm that is conjuring, captivating, alluring and at the same time incredibly fascinating. I was 18, just traveled out of my village for the first time. The place was Bompai, Kano and it was the house of my brother-in-law Ẹ̀gbọ́n Abbey, my second brother Caleb Onaolapo’s elder brother.

For hours, I’ll seat there, reading the album sleeve and trying to grasp what, who, how this music moved me so. It was like being reincarnated to a past life. Bunny O’reilly Livinston, the one who is popularly known as #BunnyWailer introduced me to reggae among other saintly artists…#BobMarley, #PeterTosh, #JacobMiller, #MaxRomeo #MightyDiamonds, #JohnnyClarke, #DennisBrown, #IJahManLevi, #URoy, #IRoy… taking their place in Ẹ̀gbọ́n Biodun’s collection.
I’ll sit there for hours, playing the music, reading the lyrics. Learning words and phrases I didn’t read in Shakespeare and Achebe, learning the story of how the black race found itself in some of the worst regions of the earth and how their spirit never left the beautiful shores of Africa, the continent they dreamed of as we hoped to visit them and bring them back home.

#BunnySpear would sing, chant and wail about ‘slavery days’, urging me to…try and remember, please remember…history can recall the days of slavery. Then he’ll wail…oh slavery days, oh slavery days…and they beat us, and they worked us so hard, and they used us, till they refuse us…oh slavery days…the big fat bull, we must pull it, with shackles around our necks… Captivating lyrics sung in a way and in a form that made you feel the lashing of the whip on bare backsides or the agony of a brother or sister tossed across the seas because they were weakened by the beating and the inhuman and inhumane treatment on their journey out of Africa. Decades later, I’d follow the same trail along the #ElminaCastle to the very Point of No Return in Ghana. I’d breath in the damp cold holding cells and imagine the agony of leaving your people behind, looking at the nebulous seas and unsure whether there would be life at the end.

Weekends, I’ll go to the Kano Central Post Office and meet the chap selling cassettes. Then every other week I was introduced to other artists, like #BlackUhuru, #TheEthiopians, #ToothsandtheMaytals, #Culture, #SteelPulse, #ThirdWorld, #ZapPow, #theGladiarors, #Pioneers etc.

Today the last of the Titans, Bunny Wailer has moved on to that land ‘that I, have heard about, so far across the sea,’ as he sang. And I am finally left with nothing but fading memories.

Music died today and all that’s left are a lyrical chiaroscuro, a cacophony of nothingness and an invitation to lurid inanity. Lyrics composed decades ago by the #wailers, conjured events that happened before we were sperm but equally propelled us to the future. The rhythms were rustic, natural, earthy and didactic – anthems guiding and guarding us to embrace us to brotherly and sisterly love and not hate.

The words hit you hard as it invites you to meditate over the past, chart a course for the future and do so with rhymes and reason; to love in a different kind of style and to hope in I-self and I-manity.

Wailer reminded us:- in the beginning there was but one concept, and that was the concept of I, then came Apalleon the devil, claiming its you and I, and from that day on, there was trouble in the world…light fighting against darkness; righteousness against evil; right battling against wrong, here comes bondage struggling for freedom…have patient I-idren have patient…

The #Africa they dreamt of is barely worth anyone’s hope today. The old style slavery that packed our relatives as sardines has become a footnote of history paling in significance to what ruiners have forced today’s generation to become.

Four hundred years of slavery has become a footnote of history. When #MaxRomeo talked about “young men and women trying hard can’t get a job,” he could have been talking about any town in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. When he sang about – ‘little children on the streets, they all should be in school,’ I could see the reflection of hope on the face of every almajiri on the street panhandling and hoping to get either sour or bitter. That was music of the Wailer years!

Today, the descendants of the old slave masters are still ‘giving candies to children, and then take them away’. So sad that I am in Canada and would never ever get to see any of these icons. The last twelve months have been incredibly wicked, taking these prophets away from us and denying us the parting gift due them. One by One they are leaving us and we can’t even mourn them properly. And today, the coffin was nailed on the last one, Bunny Wailer at just 73!

I am not weeping, wailing or gnashing teeth, I am just filled with the nostalgia of youth and pained that nothing has changed except the ways and means by which the earth revolves and has continued to sell the black race short.

While our exiled brothren and sistren were hoping to sail the #blackstarliner back home, the younger ones are stowing away in dinghies and the crevices of planes. They are opting to be sacrificed as relics in the desert, unknown, unsung and without graves. Elsewhere we are still oppressed and at home we are everywhere killing each other over land, race, region and religion and issues so ephemeral it would not go with us.

Everywhere, the black man lives, he is still ‘battering down sentence, fighting against conviction’ in an environment where ‘finding food is just as hard as paying the rent’. The Train that is bound to glory that Bunny sang about remains a pipe dream just as the black race has so far failed to ‘bide up with reasoning’.

The little figs are jumping away from their roots and are forever jinxed to wither and waste. They were ignored as ordinary vagabond with nothing but dreadlocks, scriptures and a bohemian way of life. But they have more wisdom than the classical icons we were examed on. They are real legends and there is no doubt, generations unborn would look back at them and revive their seminal work and wonder why we let them depart without declaring them as saints.

Goodnight Blackheart Man and here’s to when you return to this plane as a Reincarnated Soul living on earth, heat, air and water.

Good night Bunny Wailer.

Photocredit:Heather McGhee on Twitter and Google.