Bob Marley is widely regarded as one of the biggest influences in reggae music. However, he dropped his lifetime of reggae music persona for one of his last songs; “Redemption Song.” In this beautiful song of wisdom, Bob Marley captures the essence of his life’s work, his own perils with mortality, and his final message to humankind to echo to the end of times.
“Redemption Song” is the final track on Bob Marley and the Wailer’s twelfth studio album ‘Uprising’ released in June 1980. This was Bob Marley’s final studio album as he passed away in May 1981 at the age of 36, after suffering from malignant melanoma (cancer) under a toenail. According to Bob Marley’s wife Rita, Bob Marley was in severe pain from his illness and was contemplating his own ending. These emotions had begun to materialize in his music; in particular, themes that “dealt with his own mortality… particularly in this song”. Some lyrics of the song were inspired by the famous speech titled “The Work That Has Been Done” given by the legendary Jamaican civil-rights activist Marcus Garvey in Nova Scotia in Canada in 1937.
“Redemption Song” is a purely acoustic song performed solo by Bob Marley. This is unlike most of the songs by him which were reggae and performed with the Wailers. However, this song does not deviate much from the general themes of Bob Marley such as freedom, religion, anti-slavery, peace, and unity.
“Redemption Song” was inducted into the list of ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time‘ by the Rolling Stone magazine. It is ranked #66 on the list.
Listen to “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley & The Wailers
“Redemption Song” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
At the start of the song, Bob Marley reflects on the exploitation endured by Africans all throughout history. The entire continent has been plundered, robbed of resources, humanity, and dignity for centuries. This is why Bob Marley refers to these plunderers as “old pirates” as pirates are known to steal riches. Thousands of Africans were forced to leave their native lands and forced into slavery for the White men.
Bob Marley calls Africa a ‘bottomless pit,’ possibly referring to the vast riches the continent holds. The African continent also inferred as the ‘cradle of humankind,’ is a vast land area of forestry, food, ‘life’ of all kinds, and natural resources. So, it is not difficult to imagine why this land was called an endless vast of riches, which is also the reason it attracted many invaders over centuries.
However, Bob Marley says that his hands were strengthened by the almighty God himself. Salvation comes from within. Hence, even if your hands and legs are shackled, your mind can be free.
Bob Marley also admits that humankind has made great progress since those pirating days. At least, physical shackles are all broken down. So, now it’s time for the emancipation of the mind.
In one of the most famous hooks in music history, Bob Marley invites all of us to sing songs of freedom. This is not because he needs help, but rather an attempt to get everyone to chant words of peace and thus act in the same way.
Bob Marley knows that his life was dedicated to creating music that praised freedom and unity. Hence, it makes sense that all he ever had were all redemption songs.
Verse 2 & 3
In the second and third verses of the song, comes the true message of the song;
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds!
These two lines speak volumes. The mind is a powerful thing and unique to each one of us. Not a lot can be done to change one’s mind from the outside. Only the individual themself can influence their minds. The physical act of slavery may have been vanquished hundreds of years ago. However, there are many ways to enslave a person mentally. These methods could come in the form of inequality, discrimination, hindrance of rights, and so on. In this situation, Bob Marley’s call is for people who are responsible for creating these disparities within different communities. These people have to set themselves free from their enslaved mindsets.
Bob Marley also talks about ‘atomic energy’ referring to the atomic bombs used by the United States on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War II in 1945. The destruction of these nuclear bombings was so devastating that Japan surrendered after losing approximately 350,000 people in the two cities, most of them being civilians. Prolonged effects of nuclear radiation are still seen in the region after 75 years. But Bob Marley calls everyone not to fear this massive destruction or rather the nuclear weapons. Because he realizes that ‘time’ is a bigger killer than anything man could ever invent. Time takes all the lives and time heals most wounds. Every person, even the richest and the most powerful people in the world will all decay into the soil at the end of their time.
Watch Bob Marley Perform “Redemption Song” Live
Bob Marley is concerned about the deaths of ‘prophets’ in this world. According to Bob Marley, a prophet is not exclusively a man of God. They could also be a true leader, an activist, or even an artist spreading the message of love. One of the infamous goals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under its first director Edgar J. Hoover, was to prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify the Black nationals. The document lists such messiahs or prophets such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Elijah Muhammed. The former two personnel here were both assassinated.
Next, Bob Marley goes on to sing about the path of absolution–The Bible, the doctrine with the word of God almighty. Marley sings that we all have to fulfill the obligations stated in this book, referring to the actions of peace and love that God teaches us.
Bob Marley created a true timeless anthem of love and peace with “Redemption Song.” It not only calls people for action, but it calls people for action within themselves. The song calls for people to change themselves for the better: “love thy enemy” so there won’t be any hatred left in this world, eventually.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics and further meaning breakdown on Genius.