"My task is to keep the spirit of Bob Marley alive"

Albert 'Al' Anderson on stage during a recent concert.
Albert 'Al' Anderson on stage during a recent concert. / SUR
  • Albert 'Al' Anderson | Musician

  • The 69-year-old guitarist met the Jamaican reggae legend in London in 1974 and enjoyed a friendship that lasted until his death from cancer in 1981

More than 140,000 people are expected to attend the Weekend Beach Festival in Torre del Mar this weekend. The four-day music extravaganza, which began on Wednesday, will present a mixture of musical genres performed by some of today's most inspirational artists, along with a few of the pioneers from the 1970s. Among the latter are The Original Wailers, a band that keeps alive the spirit and music of legendary reggae star Bob Marley. The band is led by original Wailers guitarist, Albert Anderson, who worked with Marley from 1974 until his death from cancer in May 1981.

Born in New York in 1950, Albert 'Al' Anderson has performed with numerous named bands and artists over the years, but it was his introduction to the English rock band Traffic that ignited a career that has lasted for more than 40 years.

It was while working with Traffic in the Island Records recording studio in London that Anderson was asked to perform on Natty Dread, the first recording released by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Anderson went on to perform on many recordings with the Jamaican reggae star, including Uprising, Marley's last studio album.

The 69-year-old musician has performed on some of the most diverse stages of the world, although he holds a special affection for England, especially London, for it was here that he was catapulted to stardom in the mid-1970s.

"England means so much to me: it was the beginning of the future of reggae music. In the mid 70s, everybody was looking at Island Records because the whole Jamaican culture was there.

"I was lucky because I met Bob Marley through Island's founder Chris Blackwell, who asked me to play on the Natty Dread album. Paul Kossoff [guitarist with British rock band Free] was booked for the session but he was too ill at the time and I was used as a substitute," the talented musician explains to SUR in English.

The Original Wailers are keeping the music and spirit of reggae legend Bob Marely alive.

The Original Wailers are keeping the music and spirit of reggae legend Bob Marely alive. / SUR

Culture shock

At that time, Anderson had discovered Krishna, but his new found faith would not get in the way of the strong bond he formed with Bob Marley and the rest of the band - who were ardent Rastafarians. However, he points out that he did experience a culture shock when he moved from New York to Jamaica to work with the band.

"I found Krishna in the mid seventies. I had the opportunity to go to George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and it was George who introduced me to the Krishna faith. The Rastafarian culture is very spiritual and so the two cultures were very complementary.

"However, it was when I moved to Jamaica to work with Bob that I became a man, because you had to be a lot sharper to survive in Kingston than you did in New York," he recalls.

Anderson went on to work with numerous international reggae artists, including Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, the founders, along with Marley, of The Wailers, a trio that had several minor hits in Jamaica in the late 1960s. However it was to be his association with Bob Marley that would secure his name as one of the pioneers of the early reggae scene in the UK and the rest of the world during the 1970s.

Marley's last instructions

Marley's distinctive vocal and song-writing style increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide and made him a global figure. Following his death at the age of 36, Anderson decided to continue promoting his music, a task that had been set by Bob Marley just days before he died.

"I was with Bob for the last four months his life and it was then that he told me that he wouldn't be able to perform any more and that my task was to simply honour the music we made together. He believed I had the ability to keep his dream alive," Al says emotionally.

The Original Wailers, of which Anderson is now the only original band member, sing tributes to Marley, Tosh and Wailer. Anderson says that the concerts are very "spiritual", because everybody knows Marley's songs.

"Our concerts are like a sing-a-long because everybody knows the words. Once we start playing Buffalo Soldier or No Woman No Cry the audience takes over. It's really cool for us because we get to connect with the audience."

Anderson's love for Bob Marley and his music is still very evident today, almost 40 years after the singer's death, although the guitarist says that his close friend was no pushover when it came to making music.

"Bob was tough; he wasn't a pushover. He was a workaholic. I learned so much from him. He wrote songs day in day out and he always had a hook or some chords. If you want to be a musician it's a full-time job. Bob was a full-time singer-songwriter."