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By Roger Steffens aka Ras RoJah
L.A. 30/31 August 1997
The Wailers arrived in town for a two night stand at the House of Blues this weekend, and we had a chance to catch up with at the three remaining members of the group who toured with Bob around the world: bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett, keyboardist Earl "Wya" Lindo, and newly returned smoking lead guitarist Al Anderson. Their two female backup singers were a young woman from Paris named Pascal, known as "Africa," and Senya, a roots singer from yard who was produced years ago by Family Man on a single called "Natural Woman." They gave a kind of I Two feel to the music, which has been absent from many of the Wailers Band's recent tours. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the current line-up, however, is the new lead singer, Elan, a young white brother from Beverly Hills, with a Moroccan Jewish background, and an uncanny vocal resemblence to Bob. As the show started, Elan began singing offstage, and there was an audible gasp from the audience when he emerged from behind the curtains. But he connected almost immediately with the full houses on both nights, doing letter-perfect imitations of many of Marley's most famous tracks. He's got huge shoes to fill, and lots of doubters to convince, but he succeeded nicely in the always-critical atmosphere of L.A.'s premier Sunset Strip showcase. I liked the fact that Elan didn't showboat too much, keeping his between song patter to a minimum, and displaying a shy and humble manner. He knows how lucky he is to be fronting the Wailers. Saturday night, when his parents were in the audience, I (emceeing both evenings) was able to hail his folks up personally, thanking them especially for not naming their son Robert Elan, because then, of course, he would have been Bob Elan.
On a more sour note, however, I did take up with members of the band my anger at the misleading advertising that has been following the band throughout their North American tour this summer. For example, in L.A., the show was billed as a reunion of the "Original Wailers," and the ad pictured several members that are definitely not part of the tour: Junior Marvin, Seeco Patterson, and Tyrone Downie. Besides disappointing longtime fans who were set up to expect the first U.S. tour of this lineup since 1984's Legend revue, the band's promoters also misused the name Original Wailers. In a legal judgment several years back, Bunny Wailer retained the use of that name, and allowed Family Man to call whatever group he took on the road to use the name "The Wailers Band." Many of you know that Bunny released an Original Wailers album a few years back, Never Ending Wailers, which actually had original members on that recording which included older unreleased tapes of Bunny, Bob and Peter, with later additions from other "original" members Junior Braithwaite (co-founder of the group in 1962) and Constantine "Dream" "Vision" Walker (who replaced Bob during 1966 in the Wailers, while he was in Delaware), as well as Peter Tosh's son, Andrew. It has always been Bunny's wish to go back on the road with a vocal harmony group that embodied elements of the Original Wailers, and it seems to me that the cynical and deliberately misleading use of the name by the Wailers Band has considerably damaged Bunny's ability to do so now. I have a feeling the lawyers are lining up even as I write this.
Nevertheless, the Wailers Band seems reinvigorated, and I was particularly struck by the extraordinary talent of lead guitarists Ronnie Butler and Al Anderson. Al's solos on "Heathen" were simply celestial!
L.A. 2 August 1997
Sad new today that the Nigerian revolutionary bandleader Fela Anikulapo Kuti has died of AIDS in Lagos. He was 58. If you're not familiar with him, you should be, for he was one of the most truly extraordinary musical and political figures of the century. From a well- born family of doctors and scholars, he was educated in the English system, and scandalized the family when he decided on a career in music, playing African inflected jazz. During the late '60s he arrived in L.A. where he met a powerful woman named Sandra Isidore, who was appalled at Fela's lack of knowledge of African history and culture. In his autobiography, Fela tells how his life was completely transformed by contact with Sandra, causing him to return home and begin a politically-engaged recording and performing career. His anti-government songs - some running 45 minutes and longer - were seized upon by the various Nigerian dictatorships as being treasonous, and he often ended up in jail. Between bouts of isolation, he recorded with Ginger Baker, married 27 women at once in a stadium, and cut albums with titles like "Expensive Shit," and "I.T.T." - which stood for "International Thief Thief." When he declared his headquarters, the Kalakuta [Rascal] Republic, to be an independent nation, the Army attacked, and his band swung into military action in retaliation. During the confrontation, soldiers threw his mother, one of the heroes of Nigeria's struggle for liberation from Great Britain, out a second story window. When she died shortly after from the wounds she received, Fela delivered her body to the local Army barracks saying, "You killed her; you bury her!" He was about to leave for a huge gig at the Hollywood Bowl in 1984 when Nigerian customs officials dragged him off the plane, arresting him on trumped-up currency charges, and he spent the next l8 months is prison. Shortly after his release, he told me in an interview, "I divorced all my wifes." "Why?" I asked, incredulous. "Because," he said solemnly, "marriage is too confining." He conducted the entire video interview, by the way, clad only in his usual costume - purple bikini underpants. There will be a special memorial program, organized by Sandra Isidore and free to the public, here in L.A. on October l8th. I'll post more details as they become known. The Beat magazine is devoting much of its October 1997 issue to memorials of the man whose name translated as "He Who Carries Death in His Pocket."