Elan Atias of legendary old-timers The Wailers speaks on Bono, the evolution of reggae, and world hunger to Louis Westwater
One could be forgiven for not knowing the name ‘Atias’, and indeed get away with confusing said name with ‘Atticus’, a leading character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Mention the surname ‘Marley’, however, closely preceeded by ‘Bob’, and bells quickly begin to ring.
Current front man of ‘The Wailers’, Elan Atias undoubtedly has a big pair of shoes to fill every time the band takes to the stage. This is a feat that the crew has proven themselves worthy of accomplishing unremittingly throughout recent times.
Asked what stands out to him about playing here in Ireland, Atias affirms, “Irish audiences have great voices! Some audiences can’t carry a tune, but Irish crowds always manage to sing in key!”
Hardcore fans of roots-reggae from the sixties will say that the message behind the genre died with the birth of Dance Hall, Buju Banton, and subsequently artists such as Sean Paul. Yet, Elan stood firm on this one: “Both those guys are good friends and I love their work. Family Man [of The Wailers] always says that one great artist inspires another. Reggae came from blues and jazz to the early rocksteady stuff. Hip-hop came from Dance Hall, then years later hip-hop also influenced the new Dance Hall that’s out today, which then evolved into reggaeton. At the end of the day, it’s all just music.”
For the past two years, the band have been working on an album of brand new material, bringing in contemporary artists from various genres, all of whom have been influenced and inspired by the band over the years. The Wailers record material, send out the tracks to a range of collaborators, and all of a sudden their material is fused with country and western, hip-hop and rock. According to Atias, this exciting project should be with us early 2010.
The Californian-born musician is also quick to declare his like-mindedness with Bono, the pair having formed their own charity organisation two years ago.
“We took the budgets for what our bands would get from promoters on tour and gave that money to the World Food Programme, and started selling wristbands to raise money. It’s called ‘I Went Hungry’ and you can see there how much money we raise at each tour date. We actually went to the places that are being helped by us. People have been displaced by conflict and have no food or proper homes. One of the kids there grew up in the cocaine fields, and he sang us a song called ‘Hijo de Coca’ [‘Son of Cocaine’]. It brought me to tears.”
For Irish people visiting Jamaica, Elan offers some concise advice: just stay away from Kingston! Besides that, be open minded, and “go have a great time!”
For more details on the Wailers’ ‘I Went Hungry’ programme, visit iwenthungry.org