Friday, August 15, 2014

Redemption Song

Redemption Song is one of the greatest works of the reggae icon Bob Marley. It was voted as one of the 20 best political songs ever by New Statesman in UK. Rolling Stone ranked it in No 66 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is the last track of the last album of Bob Marley, Uprising. As such, it seems as if Redemption Song was the last bow of Bob Marley, before he died of cancer at the age of 36 in 1981.

Uprising is perhaps the most religious of Bob Marley’s albums with many of the songs touching religious topics, only to culminating in this acoustic folk classic solo performance. His wife Rita Marley reportedly has said that, Bob was "already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song." Perhaps the religious messages also come from this realization.

Bob Marley takes the inspiration of the song partly from a 1937 lecture of the Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” quote almost straight from Garvey’s speech. “Mind is your only ruler, sovereign” Garvey has said. This is also a recurring message in Bob Marley’s works.

This statue by sculptor Laura Facey Cooper is named "Redemption Song" and is seen in the Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica. The rising from water connects to the African philosophy of water's ability to cleanse and renew. The man and woman looks up, as if looking towards God. (Statues in Emancipation Park, Kingston Author Gwyneth Davidson, Wikimedia Commons)
Redemption Song is a call for rebellion, not necessarily against the enemies outside, but the enemies within. His rebellion, the mental rebellion, is being strengthened by religion, and the belief in the Almighty. He says, even though he had been thrown into slavery physically, “My hand was made strong, by the hand of the Almighty” and triumphantly looks forward towards the future. Despite relying on God for strength, Marley says that one’s mind is supreme. “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

Even though a slave is said to be the owner of his master, no one can own the mind of even a slave. How much you are a slave physically, you can be extremely free mentally. Also no one can stop a slave from singing freedom songs, the only thing he has. Freedom is a concept, a longing and a hope a slave would have. But it is something even a slave can own, if the mind is free.

Marley says that “all I ever have” are redemption songs. By saying “ever” he might be saying that whether you are slave or a free man, you are ultimately a slave of the system. The system is being driven by a few who suppress and oppress the masses. The masses can have only the freedom of the mind, whether slave or not. In that sense, Redemption Song seems to be a call for rebellion of non violent solidarity against the oppressive system.

"Redemption Song"

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
Another song of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

[Guitar break]

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