Bob Marly was a famous Rastafarian from Jamaica who used his music to convey political messages to the world. ‘Redemption Song’ was the last poem he wrote in 1980 before he passed on. I will discuss how the history of slavery is relevant to understand this poem and how Marcus Garvey’s ideas are the central message in the poem and how deeply religious Bob Marley was. In this essay I will show how Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ is a political poem that needs to be understood contextually for its full meaning to be revealed.
Regarding the relevance of the history of slavery Marley makes use of imagery and repetition to illustrate this point. In the first stanza Marley illustrates an image towards the reader which is seen in the lines “Old pirates, yes they rob I/ Sold I to the merchant ships”. Bob Marley compares the pirates to slave traders. He continues by stating, “They rob I”, he creates this visual imagery to express how slave traders robbed enslaved people of their freedom. He continues, “Sold I to the merchant ships”; Marley creates this imagery to show the process that the merchant ships did not sell goods but instead sold enslaved people and how these people ultimately lost their freedom. During this process it depicts in stanza one line “From the bottomless pit”. Marley creates this image to show what happened during this slave trading process. The ‘bottomless pit’ was a hole passage in the ship where slaves were forced into. For the enslaved people it was like hell in the pit, because they were put in unbearable circumstances. The repetition in context of the poem highlights the importance and relevance of the history of slavery. Seen in stanza 4, “Cause all I ever have/ Redemption songs/ Redemption songs”. Through this Marley brings attention to the history of slavery, how slaves were seen as possessions and were not allowed to have ownership over anything. Their mental thoughts, knowledge, and redemption songs they brough from their homeland is all they had ownership off. Regarding the songs slaves sing as ‘redemption songs’, Marley conveys that these songs have to ability to relieve or save slaves from their circumstances. Marley has shown the relevance behind the history of slavery through the use of imagery and repetition. This is substantial in understanding his idea that in order to truly free yourself one must emancipate the mind.
In the ideological context Marley calls to emancipate the mind to truly be free from slavery. Marley integrated this quote from Marcus Garvey who was seen as one of the nationalist heroes of Jamaica. Garvey had a huge influence on the black power movement and was seen as a second John the Baptist by Rastas. He impacted a lot of freedom fighters such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King who fought against slavery for people and seek liberation and freedom from oppression. Marcus advocated for Pan-Africanism ‘the return to Africa’, which is descending from Africa and seeking liberation from colonial and imperialist rule. This is evident in the line “Emancipate yourselves”, where Marley expresses to the reader that in order to break the chains of indoctrination, one must free the mind. He continues by stating “from mental slavery”, which states that one needs to free themselves, how they think, although slavery is no longer physical it is still rooted in people’s minds. Enslaved people were indoctrinated with lies from people they saw as superiors, and those indoctrinated teachings were imbedded into their minds. Through the use of present verbs Marley speaks in the present tense, although slavery happened in the past, people still carry the same indoctrinated mindset which directly affected the presents. An extension of this idea is that even though Marley and his people are not slaves physically it is harder to overcome it mentally. This is evident in the line “No one but ourselves can free our minds”, where Marley emphasizes to the reader it is a matter of decolonizing our mentality which no one but ourselves can do. Marley is expressing that people should move away from thinking they are inferior to others, which connects to Marley’s broader context. It is important for Marley that people should not have an oppressed mentality, even though they are being oppressed. Once one does not have a colonized mentality, they can no longer be oppressed. These two lines that were provided were used to reinforce the ideological context the power of one’s mentality. For this reason, Marley proposes a recommendation “Won’t you help do it”, he then proposes an idea more like a demand. This is depicted in the line “Won’t you have to sing/ This songs of freedom”, where Marley emphasize that it is something urgent that needs to be done to sing these redemption songs. In the poem the main message is encapsulated in these lines which connects to Marley’s broader context. It is important that one ‘emancipate the mind’ so that one is longer oppressed. Marley believes in this through teaching which made him a very religious man.
Marley uses references to divine intervention in the religion context of the poem. This is evident in the line “But my hand was made strong by the Almighty”. Marley was very religious, he states the ‘Almighty’, who is God, gave him strength through the hard circumstances. Marley means this figuratively to express that even through hardship one must never lose faith. Even through unbearable circumstances, Marley and his people never gave up their religion or beliefs. Marley is very religious, which is evident in lines “Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy”; the ‘atomic energy’ is manmade, which refers to the Cold War during that time. In relation to Marley being deeply religious, it states: “Cause none of them-ah can-ah stop-ah the time”. Marley is making a clear distinction between things we can control, like what we think, and things we can’t control, like time. Only a divine entity like God can control time “Cause none of them -ah can-ah stop-ah the time”; Marley emphasizes this to show the reader that the ‘Almighty’ God controls what happens in the world, and we, as people, control what we think and believe in. Marley was deeply religious for the reason he refers to prophets in stanza 3 “How long shall they kill our prophets”, the ‘prophets’ Marley refers to are the prophets of the Black Power movement. These prophets are Malcom X, Steve Biko, and Martin Luther King, who were killed or assassinated. An extended idea of Marley’s being a deep religious man, he proposes: “We’ve got to fulfill the book”. Again, Marley distinguishes what we can and cannot control, and that it is God’s will whatever happens.
In this essay I have discussed how the history of slavery is relevant to understand this poem, and how Marcus Garvey’s ideas were the central message in the poem, and how deeply religious Bob Marley was. In this essay I have shown how Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ is a political poem that needs to be understood contextually for its full meaning to be revealed.