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Redemption Songs --- by Bob Marley


Redemption song is an exhortation to overcome oppression by challenging established and popular thought in order to find a liberating truth.


Marley starts the song with a glimpse at his history. Marley is from Jamaica, a former British Colony. Against their will, Marley’s ancestors were brought to the Caribbean on slave ships in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth century. Many Africans in those days were captured and put into holding pits before they were sold and shipped to the slave traders who brought them to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, hence his first line “Minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit.” Marley however did not stop at the enslavement of his ancestors as he spoke of his history in the opening lines of the song. He confidently spoke of his ancestors’ strength, a strength given by an almighty force that helped them to overcome their state of oppression as slaves. The enslaved Africans of the Caribbean plantations never had one huge successful revolt that ended slavery, but were known to persevere in their efforts to be rid of the horror of slavery through their belief in an Almighty power that looked upon their suffering and would give them the strength to continually overcome the evil of their condition. In line 7 Marley states, “We forward in this generation, triumphantly” to claim that the victory over the oppression is continuing with great success as he claim that it is a triumphant progress. With this statement of confidence in the strength of his people, Marley lays down the foundation for his claim that redemption is possible if the person who seeks liberation continues to be strengthened by an almighty force.


Marley’s next claim in this song is that freedom lies in the mind of the oppressed. In line 14 he states “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, not but ourselves can free our minds.” A person who is able to think critically and question the ideas and the thoughts that float around him or her, is able to make solid choices that are pertinent to his or her development as contributing members of the society. Bob Marley originally came from a Caribbean background where the family, the community, the government and educational system are not geared at helping children learn the art of healthy questioning, which some argue is the result of centuries of enslavement of the Caribbean masses. He says in line 18 “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Ooh! Some say it’s just a part of it, we got to fulfil de book.” Bob poses this rhetorical question to challenge the tendency to blindly accept propaganda and established ideology without questioning the truth of the claims that propagandists offer and follows this question with a glance at the irrational reasoning behind not questioning established thought. “Ooh! Some say its just a part of it, we got to fulfil the book.”


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Marley’s message appealed to Americans coming out of a decade of the civil rights movement, as he spoke of continual liberation through questioning mainstream beliefs and faith in the source of all power. Americans in the seventies were beginning to realize that the work of the civil rights movement did not end with the bloodshed of the sixties, but will need to be continually pursued through day to day struggles to keep the freedoms that many people fought and died for. Redemption song is a call to remind the masses that no matter how much oppression is part of the fabric of society, liberation is possible through the strength of an almighty power and the way a person uses that given strength in pursuit of their freedom.





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