The following is a part three of a 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.
In Is This Love, Easy Skanking, Sun is Shining, Satisfy My Soul, She’s Gone, and other tracks refined “during 1977 and early 1979, he focused on the simple pleasures of his birthplace, the security of friends and family, and the ease with which these things could vanish if hardened hearts allowed them to become the stuff of political barter. Marley, who had seen Jamaica’s citizens slaughter each other while those in power snickered from the shadows, knew the politically trapped West Kingdom underclass (which inspired the album containing the aforementioned songs) had to be schooled in the urgencies of street-to-street, shanty-to-shanty reconciliation – or they might not survive to struggle another day.
The period 1977 to 1980 was one in which Marley expressed his sharpest critiques and his most outstanding work. The albums, Exodus, Survival, and Uprising constitute a musically and politically brilliant trio of works. The most important feature of these albums, produced in the final years of Marley’s career, is songwriting at once lyrically rich, politically suggestive, and ideologically sharp. The songs, on these albums, such as Exodus’: The Heathen, Survival’s: Wake Up and Live, and Uprising’s: We and Dem contain underlying caution aimed at the oppressors and to Jamaicans not to take it anymore.
These albums, as well as Kaya, did not have his reservations about the Babylon nation-state as lyrically prominent. The political undertones are not found in the catchy choruses. “Cleverly hidden and ideologically inconspicuous, the critiques rest in the body of the lyrics” (Grant Fareed). Perhaps this is because of the 1975 failed assassination on his life in which five gunmen whom “it was reasonable to suppose … were emissaries of the hotter-than-hot political tribal wars of Kingston, where each area is controlled – bought in exchange for favours like homes and food – by political parties” (Adrien Boot). The political parties would have obviously seen Marley’s preaching of an uprising up against their oppression as a threat. People who did not perceive the hidden content of the lyrics accused him of becoming a “weak-heart.” In an interview he spoke of that accusation, saying,
“People don’t understand that we live in this earth too. We don’t sing these songs and live in the sky. I don’t have an army behind
me – if I did I’d just get more militant! … Because I’d know, well … I talk from strength … Maybe if I’d tried to make a heavier tune …
they would have tried to assassinate me because I would have come too hard … I know when I am in danger and I know what to do to get out. I know when everything is cool, and I know when I tremble.”
Marley lyrically conveyed the same sentiment to his listeners on the album Kaya as “I’m not running away, I’ve got to protect my life” (Running Away) and on Exodus as “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day” (Heathen).
At the age of 24, Marley correctly predicted he would die at 36. He died due to cancer. His last album, released at age 35, was entitled Uprising and the final song on the album seemed to be one of a man who knew it would be his final message to the world. In it he implores the Jamaican people to “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, (because) none but yourself can free your mind … Won’t you help me sing these songs of freedom?” (Redemption song). His inspirational lyrics, such as these, coupled with a mesmerizing beat will lead further generations in the struggle for the Jamaican people’s independence and the formulation of their unique identity. The tradition of the continually oppressed Jamaican people has found its voice through Bob Marley, his music and the legend, which lives on in history.
Jef Kearns is a Soul Flautist proving that the flute can get down-and-dirty.
Check him out at www.jefkearns.com