expressions of protest have come from a variety of sources and through a vast plethora of mediums. From paintings to poetry, protest works have helped to shape many causes, and have in many cases even influenced the outcome of the cause for the protest. This type of influence and the ability to affect masses of people simultaneously is perhaps best shown in the world of music.
For centuries, musicians have used their skills to convey messages and to spread the word of their causes around the world. Songs such as "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield helped shape the United States during the tragedy of Kent State and helped to fuel the protests of Vietnam. Other groups, such as Red Delicious of Ireland and Nina of Germany, helped to shape the political and social environments in their own nations.
However, perhaps the most well-known protest artist on an international level is Robert Nesta Marley, known to the world as Bob Marley. For over 20 years, Marley's songs of religious faith and protest against white institution spurred the nation of Jamaica, and eventually landed reggae protest music in the spotlight in dozens of nations. This paper will discuss two of Marley's songs, those of "Redemption Song" and "Get Up, Stand up," and will examine the protest behind the songs. Additionally, the paper will focus on why Marley chose to present his protests against the political system, racism, and social inequality through his music, and how Marley's unique style characterizes his works. Finally, the paper will discuss how Marley's songs altered the conventional ideas of reggae style and the religious movement known as Rastafari, and will discuss how Marley's music was able to inspire a nation and her people.
The song "Get Up, Stand Up" was originally recorded by Marley's group, known as the Wailers, in 1971. To truly understand Marley's protest in this work, it is important to note that Marley was a Rastafarian (Scheurer, 235). The Rasta movement, started in 1920, was founded on the idea that white colonizers had fragmented the African populations world-wide, and as a result, those populations were unable to advance socially, politically, or economically. A key founder of the group, Marcus Garvey, believed that the enslavement of the blacks had provided them with a "slave mentality," which caused them to accept the white's definitions of them as inferior. According to the Rasta movement, it was this subordinate position in society that caused many of the social problems experienced by blacks (Melton, 1754).
The song "Get Up, Stand Up" clearly shows Marley's position in the Rasta movement. The lyrics call for its listeners to "get up, stand up, stand up for your rights," and to "not give up the fight." While it is known that the Rasta religion advocated non-violence, it also advocated equality and repatriation to Africa (King, 39). With this main chorus throughout the song, Marley demonstrates his commitment to the Rasta beliefs, and calls for his listeners to rise up against the colonialism of Jamaican rule.
Rasta beliefs also stem from a religious origin, which Marley also clearly discusses in this piece. Rasta religious theory involves the concept of Babylon, a term used in current faith to describe the white political powers that have held down the black race for centuries (Owens, XII). The origin of Rasta, however, describe the term of Babylon as the changing of the Bible by the white politicians of Babylon. As a result, the Rasta religion is centered not on the Holy Bible, but the Holy Piby, or the "black man's bible," and the Kebra Begast, or Ethiopian Holy Book (Campbell, 5).
Marley also clearly displays this theme in "Get Up, Stand Up." The lyrics "Preacherman, don't tell me heaven is under the earth/I know you don't know what life is really worth" and "We sick an' tired of-a-your ism-skism game, dyin' n' goin' to heaven is-a-jesus' name, lord" represent the Rasta protest against the Christian religion propagated by the white political colonizers of Jamaica. As a Rasta, Marley sought to fight against the persecution of blacks under the guise of religion. His lyrics show his commitment to the belief that the God of the colonizers is not the true God.
Marley also protests the "wickedness" and lies told by the colonizers of his African brothers, as well as the lies told by politicians and racial discriminators, as is common in the Rasta faith. In "Get Up, Stand Up," Marley conveys this message through the lyrics "It's not all that glitters is gold, 'alf the story has never been told" and "You can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time." Marley's note that the story of the oppression of the black man has not really ever been told correctly, and his acknowledgement of the "fooling" of people, is a reminder to his listeners that their plight is only known to those who live it (King, 37).
Still another term of the Rasta faith is the "I and I." This term is said to be the "most important theoretical tool apart from the Babylonian conspiracy in the Rastafarian repertoire," (Cashmore, 1979, p. 65). The idea behind the I and I is to convey a sense of oneness with Jah, or God. The Rastas believe Jah is in all men, and that the bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of Jah and man. However, since man requires a head, the only leader of men is that of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (King, 54).
Again, Marley clearly shows this concept in "Get Up, Stand Up." The lyrics "Most people think Great God will come from the skies ....but if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth" and "We know when we understand Almighty God is a living man" are comprehensible references to the I and I concept of Jah. Further, Marley uses the term Jah throughout the song, again presenting the faith of the Rasta's.
It is clear, by examining the core beliefs of the Rastafarian religion in relation to "Get Up, Stand Up" that the song is a song of protest against the white political and religious powers that have held down the Jamaican blacks, as well as blacks throughout the world for centuries. The song became a Rasta theme throughout the world, and Marley, as a result, quickly became a leader in the Rasta movement (Scheurer, 235).
Another song by Marley, "Redemption Song" is an additional example of Marley's protests against white power and inequality. Altering slightly from the more religious protest theme of "Get Up, Stand Down," "Redemption Song" focuses more on the political protests of the Rasta religion, and the plight of impoverished blacks throughout the world. The Rastas, both in Jamaica and in other areas of the world, claimed African citizenship and openly expressed their pride in their race. Arguing that the independence of Jamaica from Great Britain was a lie, and pointing to the capitalism of colonialism as the primary force responsible for the African slave trade, the political sect of the Rastas openly protested the continuing poverty of the blacks. They argued for active involvement in Jamaican politics as a tool to gain authority and power over their own future (King, 49).
These types of sentiments are clear in "Redemption Song." The line "they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships" reflect not only the concepts of I and I discussed previously, but also a reference to the African slave trade. Marley calls for his fellow men to "help to sing these songs of freedom," invoking a sense of responsibility within the black members of the community. Furthermore, Marley impresses upon his listeners the concept of self-pride with lyrics such as " ... my hand was made strong by the 'and of the Almighty, we forward in this generation triumphantly."
Marley also demonstrates a unity with the original concepts of protest exhibited by the founders of the Rasta faith (Melton, 1754). Using Garvey's concept of the "slave mentality," Marley incorporates the concept with lyrics such as "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." Marley is obviously protesting slavery, but is doing so in both a literal sense and in a more spiritual, conceptual sense. Further, the line "how long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand and look" brings together the ideas of fighting against oppression, and a responsibility of the black man to take control of his own life.
Again, Marley is plainly protesting the colonization of African peoples, and the enslavement, both mentally as well as physically, of all blacks. Further, Marley is using themes of responsibility and pride to further bring his listeners into the concepts presented within the music. When combined, the lyrics present a compelling argument to rise up and fight against those who wish to oppress the Jamaican people.