Analysis and Context of Bob Marley’s Lyrics
A lifetime of inspiration and struggle is depicted through a poster I acquired not to long ago. The portrait is Bob Marley. The image is
freedom. This sense of freedom can be, and is, achieved through his music, powered by his music, and inspired by his music as it relates to the social injustices in early white imperialism. An illusion of the creation of a human life is being meshed together in this distinct piece of work. It is a portrait of an artist fighting solely for freedom using the power of music as his weapon. The tiny pictures that make up this portrait are in both color and black and white and together show inspiring details from the life of Robert Nesta Marley. Masses of colorful records, which represent the lyrics intended to motivate listeners everywhere, make up the darkness of Marley’s dreadlocks. His dreadlocks are a mark of freedom and represent the Lion of Judah. They are considered the symbol of Rastafarian manhood. Marley’s face and eyes are somewhat lighter in color, and are made up of random samplings from experiences in his own life. The most prominent image that arises when gazing at the portrait is his hand raised gently to his lips in his routine to smoke "ganja" in a religious practice. This herb is an Indian strain of hemp that causes hallucinations and spiritual visions. The Rastafarians believe that in this action they become one with Jah, the creator. The lyrics of Bob Marley’s songs are a part of the entire Rastafarian culture that centers on what is godlike and holy, around justice, compassion, and resistance. Its message is having one love and allowing for the unification of humanity.
It is through the lyrics Marley acts out of note as a political activist, expressing his feelings for the stolen Africans forced to come to and fight for the United States. Through his lyrics, Bob Marley epitomizes the goal of the entire Rastafarian culture. Marley’s songs bring people together with a simple message of peace. This goal is, and will continue to be, peace on Earth as it is in
heaven (Wachtel 2).
In the portrait of the artist we are shown the creation of a life. This life is cherished worldwide for its brilliancy to communicate, both politically and spiritually, through music. Music opens and lifts the heart, and is the sole reason why I have a strong personal connection with the poster in observation.
Upon purchasing this poster, I saw only a mirage of small pictures being used to display an even larger, more essential portrait. It was not until I got the poster back to my house that I realized the smaller pictures were a necessity for making up the whole, much larger image. I looked at them intently for a relatively long time, and was taken away by the intricate detail with which they were comprised. In this, I realized the life of Bob Marley and his struggle in preaching justice for all, is identically complex to the pictures that make up his entire portrait. . The poster now hangs on the wall beside my bed and when I look directly into the eyes of Bob Marley, I can’t help but think how his life inspires my own. I lie there and hear his encouraging voice as if he is still alive. He speaks words of freedom as well as social injustice as it pertains to us as individuals. His music opens my own heart to new experiences and rituals and allows me to understand and accept differences. Bob Marley’s culture is a source of freedom that allows him to speak out for past generations and make known the issues of injustice. His music is a product of his culture, of his beliefs, and of his experiences. Marley once wrote, in a poem about war, "That until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation? Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes? There will be war" (Marley lines 5-9). Bob Marley speaks here about race and the behavior of white Americans in their forcing African Americans, then called buffalo soldiers, to unwillingly fight for the United States. His song "Buffalo Soldier" goes hand in hand with this notion and discusses the hardships faced by African Americans during the Civil War, as fourteen black soldiers were taken to fight for the Union. Bob Marley suggests that until all human beings are treated as equals, there will be war. However, this idea poses a question every time I look at the image of the poster. Is Marley preaching of physical war or the emotional war within ourselves to achieve personal freedom? As I see it, until we accept each other as one, there will always be war among nations and races.
Just as likely, and more importantly, freedom of one’s life will not come until differences and injustices are accepted internally. Each individual makes living differently.
Bob Marley, speaking of his own lyrics says, "My music fights against the system that teaches to live and die" (qtd. in interview). This inspiring idea is truly present in many of his songs, but prevails in the song entitled "Get Up, Stand Up." This song has a basis in the Rastafarian belief to stand up for what you think is right: to speak your voice in situations of both adversity and conflict. His song makes the claim, ?Life is your right. We can’t give up the fight? (Marley, "Legend"). This reinforces the idea that we make up our own life and its contents are our own doings. When faced with difficult and trying moments, we must remember that it is our right to decide what should be done. We are given the power through the Creator to make our life anything we choose. This is only a simple part of the universal freedom Marley tries to emphasize in his music. As a preacher of Rastafarian culture, Marley uses his lyrics to lead people in believing that living for dying, in fact, is not living at all. He insists in this particular instance that we stop playing the game where we die and go to heaven in Jesus’ name”(Marley, Legend) as he writes in his lyrics. We must believe in life and live in Jesus' name, rather than die in the name of our Savior. By using the term Jesus in his lyrics, Marley reaches out to all cultures and religions. To the Rastafarians the Creator is named Jah. Marley uses the common name of Jesus to reach every single individual. His lyrics, because they are so universal, have the ability to change the way people think and feel. People everywhere can relate to the songs of this artist and realize both the happiness and suffering in life. Marley speaks not only about the treatment of African Americans, but speaks about the entire population coming together as one to achieve a universal freedom through our sole belief in a Creator.
The notion of having one love is also present in the words of Bob Marley and is an important message of his own culture. He writes, "as it was in the beginning (one love), So shall it be in the end (one heart)"(Marley, "Legend"). This is a distinct reference to loving one God. We will be free in the acceptance of the Creator, as he provides everlasting forgiveness for the sinners who, "hurt all mankind just to save his own"(Marley, "Legend"). This thought of oneness with the Lord will unite all who choose to listen and believe. We all must unite in him, and will be free. The Rastafarian culture bestows hope to every individual who listens to Bob Marley’s lyrics, as he sings for the making of Heaven on Earth. An
author speaking on a calendar for the year of 1999 wrote, “As a social activist, his lyrics leave an indelible mark on our past, present, and future struggles to embrace a harmonious existence within the brotherhood of man on this earth”(Crabtree 1).
In saying this, the author creates an idea that Bob Marley speaks to everyone through his words and it is his wish for unity. Unity leads to the freedom of man.
Perhaps the most powerful song in the history of Bob Marley is that of redemption. Entitled “Redemption Song” it deals with the inner strength to overcome and live free:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds. Have fear for atomic energy cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look “Won’t you help sing these songs of freedom Cause all I ever had, redemption songs. These songs of freedom, songs of freedom.” (Marley, “Legend”)
In this block of lyrics, Marley encourages individuals to look within themselves for the freedom that will set everyone free. He is insisting that we stop allowing people to kill one another because of slight differences. Marley reaches out, through his lyrics, to help people realize the harsh reality of prejudice in the world. When our differences are accepted and overcome, he praises that we can all sing songs of freedom. Marley speaks about freedom in his lyrics as they pertain to us individuals as well as us as a complete entirety. Marley’s goal was to better the whole human race by uniting them through his music. In this he was successful because his music empowers individuals, inspires them, and in his eyes makes them free.
So as I look at the portrait of Bob Marley, made up of small pictures that represent the details of an influential and inspiring lifetime, I question myself: am I free? This poster acts as a leading influence on the direction of my own life as I search for freedom within myself by accepting people for what they are. I then ask, am I living for life, or am I living for death? I see a reflection of my wrongdoings as I look into the eyes of the man on the poster. I often feel that I am not living life to its fullest. It is in Marley’s lyrics that I realize the brutality and insecurity of the human race.
It is in the poster of Bob Marley that I realize the struggles in his life that he relentlessly overcame to inspire others on the idea of universal freedom. He sings beliefs of the Rastafarian culture, but preaches them to each individual. These lyrics are universal and the portrait is much the same as it is made up of intricate details of the life of Robert Nesta Marley.
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