Power of musical unity

August 24, 2006|By MARC SHAPIRO | MARC SHAPIRO,SUN REPORTER

A call out for unity/in every province and city/what do you think we've been saying/since we first started playing." These words end 311's "Electricity," from the 1997 album, Transistor.

This summer's Unity Tour - which comes to the Nissan Pavilion tomorrow - is turning these words into actions. Sharing the stage with 311 for the whole run are the Wailers, the legendary reggae band that backed Bob Marley for his entire career, and Hawaiian band Pepper, which plays a hybrid of reggae, rock, punk and pop.

The tour is a celebration of the unity in contemporary music - these bands might not have shared the stage in a segregated live music scene decades ago. At each performance, Jamaican, Hawaiian and American music come together. Rock fans and reggae fans come together.

"The Unity Tour is a good music lesson for anyone looking to take a ride through the last 50 years of music," said Ernest "Drummie Zeb" Williams, who's been drumming for the Wailers since the late '90s. "You can see the new, you can see the foundation where it came from, and you can see where the youths are taking it."

While 311 often combines reggae and rock, the Wailers exemplify the roots-reggae sound that undoubtedly influenced 311. Aaron "P-Nut" Wills, 311's bassist, said he will be thankful for the rest of his life for having the Wailers on tour.

"Just having them out, no matter what, even if it was just one show, would be the perfect blessing," he said after a recent show in Philadelphia. Aston "Familyman" Barrett, the Wailers' original and current bassist, is one of P-Nut's biggest influences.

"He's the godfather of reggae bass," he said. "His style is so unique and melodic and as a rhythm instrument ... he's made it so beautiful."

Familyman and his brother, the late Carlton "Carly" Barrett, the Wailers' original drummer, are credited with being the seminal reggae rhythm section. Their early work in the '60s with pioneer reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry's Upsetters led them to become the defining rocksteady-style reggae rhythm section.

Familyman is still the backbone of the Wailers. Joining him on this tour are two other original Wailers, guitarist Al Anderson and guitarist Junior Marvin, who is doubling as lead vocalist. The Wailers' sets are almost entirely Marley-era songs, such as "Stir It Up," "Is This Love?" and "Get Up, Stand Up." Although the current band has not released any new material, Drummie Zeb thinks it will happen.

"Familyman always says it's time to record, but maybe right now it's not the hour," he said. "The hour is soon to come. My purpose here with the Wailers is to try to move it forward."

In the meantime, Drummie Zeb is working on a project called Dubadelic. The album, which features P-Funk bass extraordinaire Bootsy Collins, is a combination of reggae and funk. At the root of the music, Drummie Zeb said, are Nyabinghi rhythms, which are used in Rastafarian ceremonies and are ancestral to reggae.

P-Nut, like Drummie Zeb, is also branching out beyond 311, to stretch the limits, he said. He wants to write film scores and get them in the hands of movie producers. He also shares Drummie Zeb's goal of moving his band's music forward. After the band takes some time off next year, he hopes they stop censoring themselves and write better, longer, weirder songs.

"There's no wrong notes, there's no wrong songs, everything is fair," he said. He said he feels the band has self-censored in an effort to keep its consistency. "That's the pressure I always heard about when I was a kid before we got successful, and I've just now come to understand," he said.

But he has faith that the band will satisfy its fans if they do things the way they want to. "The reason why people fell in love with us is because we were being ourselves," he said, "and the more we do that, the more people will want to gravitate toward that."

The Unity Tour comes to the Nissan Pavilion, 7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, Va., tomorrow night. Tickets are $25-$36. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. Call 410-547-SEAT or visit ticketmaster.com.

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