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Robert Nesta Marley Feature Section

Ernest "Drummie Zeb" Williams Playing With The Band
Special Feature Report for RadioREGGAE.com from Marc Shapiro

It’s a reggae dream-come-true. After paying dues to the scene for over a decade, the opportunity came to play for the definitive reggae band, the band that helped put Bob Marley on the map: The Legendary Wailers.

            Ernest “Drummie Zeb” Williams is now living out this dream by drumming for The Wailers.

            “All of the songs are a dream to play. They’re all jewels, special in their own way,” said Zeb. “The whole library is dreamy.”

            Zeb didn’t just wake up one day and find himself a member of The Wailers. He’s been playing drums for 30 years and has been playing in reggae bands for 20 years, joining the scene when he was 19 years old.   Zeb has played with Israel Vibration, Eek A Mouse, Frankie Paul, Louie Rankin, Gregory Issacs and The Razor Posse. The event that really set things up for Zeb to join The Wailers came when he was playing with Awareness Art Ensemble on the same bill as The Wailers. He sat in on sound check with them, playing alongside Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the original bassist of The Wailers who produced, arranged and wrote much of the band’s legendary catalog.  Zeb ended up playing on the same bill as The Wailers two or three times a year, maintaining his relationship with Family Man. Six years ago, an Awareness Art Ensemble manager who had also worked with The Wailers heard that The Wailers needed a drummer. Shortly after that, Zeb found himself playing in the most internationally renowned reggae band.

“I started listening to Marley in the 70s and I knew that was the next big thing,” recalled Zeb of his first impression of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Zeb unfortunately never got to see the legend himself in concert. But now he gets to perform the music of that legend.

“I breathe with 11 members on stage,” said Zeb about being the drummer. “Once I have everyone’s heart with mine, I breathe with 1000 people,” he said about connecting with the audience.

            The Wailers play songs to cater to the mood of the crowd, often making up set lists on the spot.

“Everybody takes a ride, including us,” he said.

It is very important not to water down the music because, according to Zeb, reggae is a very direct, positive music.

            “You can use it to be vulgar or talk funky, but you can really use it to get a message across,” said Zeb about the power of reggae music.

            His concept of reggae is embodied by his favorite Bob Marley and The Wailers song “War.” The song’s lyrics are directly taken from a speech given to United Nations by Haile Selassie about human rights.

            “If you can’t humble yourself and deal with these words something is wrong,” said Zeb. Much like those lyrics, he places a lot of importance on people uniting together.

            “If people are so into loving God, why can’t they embrace each other?” asked Zeb. “I can reason with everyone 360. If we can reason and reach the heights then we can all get along.”

Despite this lack of man-to-man understanding Zeb discusses, he has a lot of faith in what he calls the “One Love Generation,” the young adults of today. He feels that the world is going to change once this unified generation gets into power politically.

            “Everyone can go to the same jam. There’s some kind of similar energy, it’s not as separated as it was 20 years ago,” said Zeb.

            Twenty years ago is not only when Zeb entered the reggae scene, it was also when he took up Rastafarianism.  For Zeb, Rastafarianism is a way of life, not a man-made religion.

“It teaches you some real high level thinking,” said Zeb. “It’s a window of information.”

Zeb added that Rastafarian is about controlling your body rather than your body controlling you. He does martial arts to keep his body in tune. He also places importance on “smoking the herb” in moderation, maybe even taking month-long breaks if needed, to stay in control of your body.

            “It’s about praising God. The Rastaman is giving thanks, just like communion in church,” said Zeb about “smoking the herb.” He does caution, however, that Babylon is all around.

            “It’s the system that was set up to oppress,” said Zeb. “The reggae lovers need to be safe because Babylon is everywhere.”

            While Zeb and The Wailers embody the ethos of Rastafarians everyday, they are also touring tirelessly and doing what they can to continue to spread reggae music. A new studio album is currently in the works for The Wailers. The Razor Posse, another band that Zeb plays drums for, will be releasing a new album on Ras Records due out in June. The first single, “Serve Somebody,” will be on a Bob Dylan reggae tribute album due out this summer.


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