Many admirers of Bob Marley’s work believe that the musician decided to say goodbye to the world and his fans by performing the song “Redemption Song.” Bob did not even imagine that this track would be his last record in life. But Marley already noticed the deterioration of his health and the imminent decline of life at that moment. The words in this song, their strange manner of performance, and the general tone of the work suggest that the reggae legend seems to be performing his swan song. It’s a profound meaning behind the “Redemption Song.”
Some people consider him a prophet, some think he’s a genius, and others say he’s a man who used marijuana and wrote music. But still, the majority saw in him the talented Bob Marley, who just wanted to change the world through music. His songs are sorted into quotes, but let’s figure out what Bob Marley sang about in his last composition.
The story behind the “Redemption song.”
Famous British photographer Dennis Morris recalled how, in 1980, Marley invited him to his apartment in London. Usually, the musician was constantly visited by people, surrounded by a fan, but that day he was alone and did not want to see anyone. They first talked, and then Bob picked up the guitar. Here’s what Morris says:
“At that moment, I could not even think that this song was being performed for me. I was surprised when I found out that I heard this song almost the very first.”
Rita Marley, Bob’s wife, said that he had already been diagnosed with cancer by that time. Rita describes Bob’s condition as follows:
“He did not tell anyone that he was in severe pain and suffered from it and prepared for death. His last song reflects his mood and complete acceptance of the end.”
As people know, Marley was a Rastafarian. This is a notable trend of religion in which believers cannot accept the intervention of medicine in their lives. Bob did not call the doctors and spent the last months writing and recording music. This is how his song began, which became the latest and most famous. You can even say that the history of the track has developed from the onset of illness, complete loneliness, and rhyming lines. And all this laid the foundation for the song.
What does “Redemption song” mean?
To understand the meaning of the song’s title, we need to turn to the very life of Bob Marley. The song about redemption carries a deep sense of the singer’s whole life. Marley always wanted peace in the world, so one day he came up with a brilliant idea: to reconcile the two warring political factions of the island. The concert was organized by one of the participants in the battles, Prime Minister Michael Manley, and supported by the musician. At the concert, the following words became his legendary phrase to the people:
“The madmen who are trying to make this world worse never rest. How can I?”
Two years later, at another significant concert, it was an absolute miracle: at the request of the singer, the leaders of the opposing groups, the socialist Michael Manley and the conservative Edward Seaga, went up on stage and shook hands. Is this not redemption between the warring parties, who did not want to perceive each other in any way? And if not for Bob, this handshake would never have happened in their life. “Redemption Song” is a track about life, friendship, and the end, which will come very soon and give rise to something new and unknown.
Understanding the meaning behind “Redemption song.”
The song is done in a style that Bob Marley doesn’t usually perform on his tracks. This is a kind of acoustic reggae ballad. The words of the “Redemptive Song” refer to persecution, oppression, liberation through God, and inner freedom. This song can be considered the anthem of Rastafarianism, which atones for all the sins of its faithful followers. But Bob addresses not only rastamen in his music. The central climax of his song is a call for people to understand as early as possible that slavery within themselves is the vice and harm of humanity. Marley once borrowed this expression from the speech of one famous Scottish fighter for the rights of blacks, Marcus Garvey, in 1937.
The main message seems like this – get rid of the inner shackles, and no one can enslave you.
In an interview, U2 lead singer Bono said:
“I went with this song in my heart to every meeting with a politician, prime minister, or president. It was, for me, a prophetic saying or, as Bob said – a little ax that can cut down a big tree. The song reminded me that freedom always comes with a price, but for those willing to pay, perhaps the reward will be “liberation from mental bondage.”
Bob Marley knew he was going to die, and the musician did not leave himself a chance for life:
“Rasta does not accept amputations, and I do not allow a person to be taken apart for parts.
Marley decides that the best thing he can do before he leaves this world is to write a song.
“Because that’s all I ever had – “Redemption Song.”
Now we should understand the song line by line and some essential lines from which further analysis of Bob Marley’s thoughts will be built.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” With this line, Bob assures everyone that a lot depends on the person and his thoughts. Marley knows that human limits are set by the person and not by others, and all our boundaries are our problems.
“Have no fear for atomic energy ’cause none of them can stop the time.” Do you understand the meaning of these lines? This is like a subtle metaphor that says no matter what the catastrophe may be. Time is the very resource that cannot be frozen and stopped. And it does not matter whether it is a nuclear disaster or another. Much in life is decided by time, which we already have too little.
“How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Ooh!”. This line from the song is about how many people stay where they are, and they watch how the rest allow themselves to mock other people. The inaction of many people leads to global catastrophes. And if you continue to do nothing and only do what to observe from the outside, then there will be no single peaceful society. As you know, Bob Marley wanted no wars in the world, and he even tried on two leaders who shook hands with everyone at the concert. As long as a person stands quietly and accepts the situation, important people will be removed and wiped off the face of the earth.
“Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”. Are you terrified of something in life much more than losing your freedom? If you are afraid to sing about what you love, you have been manipulated for a long time. So, you have long been a slave to your thoughts. A person escapes from the world by forbidding or being afraid to say many words aloud, and Bob Marley strongly recommends not doing it. Otherwise, a person will lose his freedom of speech and forget what it is to be truly free.
“Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs,” Bob admits that this song is the truest and fair he has. With the help of it, he wants to let go of all his sins, and he wants to apologize to everyone he once hurt. He redeems his soul and pours it out to society, wishing to be forgiven. This song is his last word, which he dedicates to the people. He is entirely open to the community and asks nothing more in return.
It is noteworthy that Marley does this song in its purest form: only a voice and a simple acoustic guitar, and the key is G-major. There was an attempt to record “Redemption Song” with the band, but it became apparent that the accompaniment that helped so much in other songs here only distracted from the main thing: Marley’s voice and his main message. Significantly, Bob sings his main “Redemption Song” individually.
Rolling Stone magazine included the song in the five hundred most incredible pieces, and the New Statesman named it one of the top twenty political songs. Many artists have covered this song, including Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Joe Strummer, Stevie Wonder, Rihanna, Beyonce, Madonna, Boris Grebenshchikov, and many others. But still, anyway, the original version of Bob Marley is the best among all the other covers.
Once Bob said an exciting phrase at one of his concerts:
“I’m not on the side of black people, and I’m not on the side of white people. I’m on the side of God.”
These strong words have become the motto of this song. It is worth rereading several times to understand the deep meaning of the text.