Redemption Song – a brief analysis

One of my favourite songs of all time, Bob Marley’s Redemption Song is one metaphor after another. Released in October 1980, it was Marley’s last single before his death in 1981 and sums up his principles on freedom and redemption.

Bob Marley Redemption Song

Old pirates, yes, they rob I/ Sold I to the merchant ships

‘I’ stands for the African collective that was robbed from its sovereignty and cultural roots and sold into slavery by the colonial powers. While many slaves were sold overseas to the American continents, a lot of slaves were used on the African continent in gold mines or plantations.

Minutes after they took I/ From the bottomless pit

The bottomless pit represents the precarious conditions slaves were held in, be it the hulls of the ships or dark slave prisons. On the other side, the bottomless pit was actually also interpreted as completely opposite as rather being Africa’s immensity and wealth of resources, hence timeless, infinite, bottomless.

But my hand was made strong/By the hand of the Almighty

Even though he has endured hardships, God has given him strength to carry on.

We forward in this generation/Triumphantly

A lot of progress has been made with the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights movement.

Won’t you help to sing/ These songs of freedom?

Won’t you help with the continuous fight against racism? While a lot of progress has been done there is still much more to be done.

Because all I ever have / Redemption songs

As this song was written at a time when Bob Marley was diagnosed with cancer, he contemplated his mortality and realized that the only way he will make an impact is through his songs, which will transcend his death.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/ None but ourselves can free our minds!

These verses were actually derived from a speech by Marcus Garvey, a proponent of Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism [“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind” – Garvey, 1937]. While slavery has been abolished and ‘bodies’ have been freed, the minds are still enslaved. Racism as well as other limitations such as greed, selfishness etc. prevents the human race from progressing and sometimes we can be morally complicit by not taking action. However, change always starts from within, at a personal level.

Have no fear for atomic energy /Because none of them can stop the time

While atomic energy is a relentless form of destruction it is nowhere as powerful as time, which will have its final say on everything.

How long shall they kill our prophets /While we stand aside and look?

Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the countless martyrs that died for equality ideals.

Some say it’s just a part of it/We’ve got to fulfill the book

The book here can either refer to the Bible [The prophets in the Old Testament testified to the suffering that God’s people would have to endure before the end would come, and before the Messiah would return] or simply to destiny, in completion of the ‘master plan’.