Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"

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Since its founding in the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement has grown to the point where it has become a major cultural and political force in Jamaica. During its existence, the movement has challenged Jamaica's neo-colonialist society's attempts to keep whites at the top and blacks at the bottom of the socio-economic structure. Because of its controversial actions, the movement has evoked responses from observers that range from "hostility" to "curiosity" (Forsythe 63). On one hand, Rastafarians have been criticized because of their belief that Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, is God and that marijuana (ganja) should be used as a religious sacrament. On the other hand, the Rastafari have been praised for their continual resistance to and confrontation with oppression, racism, and the exploitation of the poor and underprivileged (Campbell 1). Unfortunately, most early studies of the Rastafarian movement create a distorted image of the group. Jamaica's national newspaper, the Daily Gleaner's, anti-Rastafarian perspective led many to conclude that the Rastafarians were Black Marxist "racists" whose "criminality" was linked to drug-addiction. As an example of the distorted image, Morris stated the following: They are vehement in their attacks on the government, the white man, imperialism and Christianity, and their eloquence is touched by that naivete which derives...from an almost total ignorance of the world, economic affairs, and any sense of history. This is not to say that they do not have a cause; it is simply to state that whatever case they may have, they parody it with their odd speech, dress and behaviour. (89) Despite the often negative image projected in the press and other writings, the Rastafarian movement has grown at a rapid rate. In 1977, an estimated 75,000 native Jamaicans were followers of Rastafari (Davis and Simon, Reggae Bloodlines, 63). By 1988, Barrett conservatively calculated the membership of the worldwide movement to be 300,000 (2). Forsythe observed that Rastafarianism "represents a growing force wherever sizable West Indian communities are found--in Britain, Canada, the USA and in the Caribbean" (63). There are several possible explanations for the rapid growth of Rastafari. One major factor in its expansion was the emergence in the late 1960s of reggae music, a derivative of American rhythm and blues and Jamaican ska. Reggae helped spread the philosophy of Rastafari to the wider Jamaican audience and the world. During that period of time, Bob Marley and the Wailers were the principal popularizers of reggae. Before Marley's death in 1981, the Wailers, with albums like Burnin' (1973) and Survival (1979), articulated a message of liberation and redemption which had "the power to transform a world of injustice and war into one of peace and love" (Reid 172). By 1986, the Wailers' ten albums had sold more than 20 million copies (Jennings 69). Marley and his music were significant forces in the increased popularity of the movement. Barrett felt that the growth of the movement was "largely due to the charismatic personality of Robert Nesta Marley" (213). Davis and Simon proposed that the Wailers' music had thrust "the Rasta cosmology into the middle of the planet's cultural arenas, and suddenly people [wanted] to know what all the chanting and praying and obsessive smoking of herb [were] all about" (Reggae Bloodlines 63). Because Marley's music was such a powerful force in the rise of the Rastafarian movement, there are many popular and scholarly writings which focus on Marley and his music. An analysis of Marley's songs provides explanations of the success of his music as well as larger insights into the persuasive power of music, particularly music calling for significant changes in society. Although the Wailers were founded in the early 1960s, only with Catch a Fire in 1973 was the band's influence truly felt outside Jamaica....
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