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Amiri Baraka claims that African American music is an idiosyncratic expression of the

communities sorrow, which sustains it and allows for progress.

Baraka opens his piece “Wailers” with a proclamation of “Wailers are we” (1). To wail is

to cry in anguish or pain, and Baraka wants his readers to hear his wailing with this poem. He

reaffirms his first statement by saying, “We are Wailers” but assures his readers that they should

not “get scared” by this reality (2). There is a purpose for the wailing that he has not yet revealed,

but it’s function is there. What he does reveal is that there is “Nothing happening but out and way

out” (3). There is a change brewing because of their cries, and it is unlike anything before as

suggested by it being “out and way out” (3). In fact, what the narrator claims is that there is

“Nothing happening but the positive.”, which indicates the true purpose of the wailing (4). It

exists to bring the “positive” (4) vibes so often expounded by reggae singers; that “way out” (3)

social change that can only be dreamed of by those who desire it the most. The narrator is aware

of “the negative” that is often presented, but he references it in parentheses as if it is a passing

thought, something that should not be considered (5). He is one of the “Wailers” and he is proud

of it, claiming “Yeh, Wailers./ We wail, we wail” (5-6). The next set of lines changes the tone of

the poem greatly, and the wailing takes on a more offensive edge:

We could dig Melville on his ship

confronting the huge white mad beast
speeding death cross the sea to we.
But we whalers. We can kill whales.
We could get on top of a whale
and wail. Wailers. Undersea defense hot folk (7-12)

Now these wailers are not just crying about their woes or advocating the positive. Baraka

cleverly uses the homonym “whalers” to change these positive wailers into hunters ready to

defend themselves. He compares their plight to that of Captain Ahab with his remark that “we

could dig Melville” (7) and alludes to white society as “the huge white mad beast/ speeding
death cross the sea to we” (8-9) similar to Moby Dick. But unlike Ahab who fails to defeat his

beast, these whalers “can kill whales” (10). It is not through violence that they are able to do so.

Their strategy is to “get on top of a whale/ and wail” (11-12). Although they are both “whalers”

(10) and “wailers” (11) they take the path of the latter “and wail” (12), allowing them to remain

“defense hot folk” (12) and not whaling aggressors. Encountering “blue babies humming” (13)

and “Boogie ladies strumming our/ black violet souls” (13-14) when they arrive as a celebration

of their endeavors. The wailings of the African American people are permanent “come from the

land of never say die” (14) and sustain the people with “the funk” (15). These people are

“wailers all right”, their cries are their music and art, and they sustain one another with them


The greatest wailers are those who can reach the largest audience with their message

while still bringing it back to the black experience. Much of the remainder of the poem lauds

these artists for their successes. Bob Marley is the first artist who’s work the narrator commends,

going so far as to say “Hail to you Bob, man” (16). Marley’s work is evident throughout the

poem as Baraka’s narrator speaks in a distinctive Jamaican, reggae influenced dialect noted by

phrases such as “We wailers” resembling the songs in Marley’s catalogue (5). He claims that

they will ask Marley’s “question all our lives” (16) referring to Marley’s piece “Could You Be

Loved” (17). As for the question’s answer, the narrator sees the truth:

...I and I understand. We see the world

Eyes and eyes say Yes to transformation. Wailers. Aye, Wailers.
Subterranean night color Magis, working inside the soul of the world.
Wailers. Eyes seeing the world’s being (17-20)

The two “I’s” referred to are another example of Baraka’s use of homonyms, this time it is used

to compare the individual with the ability to see the truth to “see the world” (17). The future is

“transformation” and the “Wailers” are the catalyst (18). Their work as “subterranean night color
Magis, working inside the soul of the world” allows these artists to bring about change from the

inside out, and being “Magis” they strive to work endlessly for the greater good (19). So the

answer to the question of “Could You Be Loved” is always in transition, but with the help of the

wailing artists the answer could become yes.

To continue on theme of advancement Baraka’s narrator applauds what he feels these

artists bring to the African American community. Marley is referenced again, bringing his “real

vision and action” (21). New “Wailers” begin to be called upon, such as “Lester... wailing us

energy/ for truth” (22-23). Their “wailing” empowers the others, because it comes straight from

their souls (22). They are “wailing for all we worth” (23) , and the “sound purchase” (25) which

they are “obsessed” (24) with belongs to the black community and no one else. There are those

who attempt to take this music and “tell folks” (27) that it is their own, such as the case with

“Thelonius” (26). These individuals cannot preform “real wailing” and instead give off a cheap

counterfeit “tale telling”, because the music comes from the communities experience and cannot

be imitated (28). The true “Blue Blowers. The Real Rhythm Kings” (29) are who they are

because they “sing philosophy” (30), they sing the experience because they were forced to

participate. The “Wail Vessel”, it is filled with these wailers, it is “crowded” with them because

there are so many who have wailing to do (26). Even though there are some African American’s

whose wailing is more pronounced, they are all born into and discover that “Wailers/ Be We”


The poem then begins to take on a more restless, syncopated tone, as if it is reaching the

climax of a musical piece. A list of “Wailers” and an entourage musicians fly by at