The following is a part two of three part article I have written on Bob Marley. It deals with his life, culture, and a lot with the symbolic and hidden meanings of his lyrics. Please subscribe to the RSS feed for updates to this blog.
Click here for part one.
Bob Marley saw the oppression from the days of slavery as merely having been replaced by poverty. On his album, Catch a Fire, the song Slave Driver attests to this when he remembers:
On the slave ship
How they brutalize our very souls
Today they say we’re free
Only to be chained in poverty
Good God I think it’s illiteracy.
By the start of the 1970s (the same time-frame as this particular song), exactly one half of the total Jamaican populations was illiterate. Marley had a clear understanding of freedom in post-colonial Jamaica; the constitutionally guaranteed freedom did not transform into any basic rights for those who lived in the ghettos. None of the fundamental restructuring imagined by the anti-colonialists, the right to employment, decent housing, running water, or education, had materialized in the wake of post colonial independence.
Marley addresses his disappointment in the school system in his song, Could You Be Loved. When he sings “don’t let them fool you, or try to school you” he was speaking of the validity of what was being taught in Jamaican schools. Schools in Jamaica used outdated literature, which taught predominantly of the white explorers and of Great Britain as the light at the turn of the century that helped Jamaican people. These texts did not speak of slavery, did not mention where many of the children descended from, and the books refer to Great Britain as a savior instead of an oppressor. Marley wanted people to realize the educational injustice that was taking place in the school system. He did not attend this schools, and in one interview spoke of the curriculum, stating, “if I was educated I would be a damn fool.”
Marely saw reggae music for Jamaicans as “the people music and reggae music is the news … News about your own self, your own history … things that they won’t teach you in school.” In his song Babylon System, Marley implores his listeners to,
Tell the children the truth …
‘Cause we’ve been trodding on
The winepress way too long
Got to rebel, Got to rebel
From the very day we left our shores
Of our father’s land
We’ve been trampled on …
Somebody got to pay for the work
We’ve done, rebel.
The wine press serves as a visual metaphor of Babylon, which is a rasta word for corrupt system. The song is meant to serve as a reminder that without equal opportunity in society, society is “sucking the blood of the sufferer,” making it easier to lose hope for “unity, peace, and freedom.” Marley attempts to get people passionate about uprising by reminding them that they have been “trampled on” every since they were first brought into slavery.
The song goes on to say, “by deceiving the people continually, me say them graduating thieves and murderers.” The murderers Marley was likely referring to were politically motivated. During the election campaigning from 1979 to 1980, which was the most heinous and violent of the island’s history, 800 Jamaicans were violently killed – most by hands of each other. Jamaica has a violent history of politically motivated warfare that dates back to the 1970s. Marley felt Jamaica to be a “very good place and a bad place. But when you have political vibes or when I stand up and see youth fighting youth … just because the youth hungry and they can’t get no jobs. And the people controlling the jobs are politicians … so … the youth killing youth because of politicians. I mean, I feel really sick in my heart about that.”
Click here for Part 3 of 3
Jef Kearns is a Soul Flautist proving that flute can get just as down and dirty as sax.
Check him at www.jefkearns.com