Won't you help me sing - Ode to Redemption Song
There are memories in my life, burned so deep in my conscience that I always know that something special is happening and that something whatever it is I will always remember and it will shape me.
It was the first time I heard Redemption Song. I don't know if it was the rastaman on TV, Majek Fasheck or if it was the reaction of the people around me but I felt I had heard something powerful. Something fearful almost and certainly prophetic. It connected to my soul and stirred something in me like all great songs do.
I was at most six years old at the time because this memory imprints itself at our house on the Atimbo road in Calabar, Nigeria. My Dad, noticing my reaction to it drew me into a conversation about the song.
He told me about the original and about Bob Marley and the meanings of the song.
I learnt more about the Man who sang those songs Buffalo Soldier and I shot the Sheriff that kept playing on the radio every sunday. For some reason, they always played some kind of easy listening mix with country music and slow reggae on hot sunday afternoons.
I hated sunday afternoons because we didn't eat before we went to Church. (My mum feared a big breakfast would make us lethargic at church. She wanted us alive and awake whilst enduring those long sermons)
So by the time we came home in the afternoon, I was bloody hungry and these songs would be playing on the radio.It is no wonder I never took to country music or reggae with a few exceptions of course like anything from Bob Marley and Buju Banton's Untold stories.
That saying, I certainly did not hear this song on a Sunday. I suspect it was a cool saturday evening and it was certainly after supper.
Forgive me I meander, I just wanted to say that this song opened another door in my mind. My little self walked through it and it changed my world. I learnt and felt a million things. I learnt that Bob Marley was prophetic, that was number one. I learnt that there was such a scary thing as the atomic bomb, that gave me so many nightmares.
When I got older and I finally heard the original acoustic version by Bob Marley, it was even better. It brought me to tears, as it always does to this day when I hear it after a long time.
It is always a wonder to me how, in those little first four lines of the song, Bob Marley could impress upon me the horrors of slavery and the oppression of the Black Man.
Old pirates, yes, they rob I, Sold I to the merchant ships, Minutes after they took I From the bottomless pit.
Of course already knew about slavery. I had seen the shackles, the boats and all at the museum in Calabar. At the time, I had felt bad about it and thought in wonder how people could be so callous and have such hopeless regard for the lives of fellow men. But I never connected to it until Bob sang all the history,the pain, the savagery and the hopelessness of it into my consciousness. There was a sadness and an aching in the spirit of the song that marked my heart.Yes, this song had that kind of power. Just listening to the words, my God! The words!They were and always are so vivid to me, I feel it hits me with a force anytime I hear it.It is not just Bob Marley's voice and words. His vision is projected into the song and brings it into the physical.The song has life and being all on its own. Bono says he takes it to every meeting he has with political leaders and heads of state.He says for him the song was a prophetic utterance and used Bob Marley's quote to describe it as ‘the small ax that could fell the big tree'. I agree with him with a song like this I can see how God can speak the world into being with words.But my hand was made strong, By the hand of the Almighty.We forward in this generationTriumphantly.
Even at that young age, those verses made me envision all the celestial heavens open and the angelic host give me mandate to go out and conquer the world. (What can I say, I was a dramatic child). As I got older, if I was down these words helped me to push forward like I owed that to the mandate given me and my generation.
And when he asks;
Won't you help to sing These songs of freedom?
My heart said yes! I didn't know what exactly I was saying yes to but I knew it was a great thing! and it taught me that when you felt strongly about something you can call and gather a people unto a good cause. Like Singing a song of freedom.
For me the verses;
'Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds'
was one of the most important I would ever hear. I have come to learn through this song , time and experiencing what truly mental slavery is, that I alone had the keys to my mind. I am an the master of my fate and the captain of my soul. I came to the affirmation that my thoughts and my mind where powerful and unlimited and cannot be not be shackled .
Have no 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? Ooh! Some say it's just a part of it: We've got to fulfill the book.
The song also taught me that I should fear nothing for nothing or no one has the power over time. It was also for me call to arms, not to stand aside and watch injustice, suffering and racism .
It has allowed me to accept that there would always apathetic bystanders 'the some sayers' but we have to press ahead and fulfil our destiny , triumphantly of course.
Redemption song was Bob Marley's last song and it is so different from any he ever wrote.
He had been diagnosed with the cancer around the time he wrote it and according to his wife he was already secretly in a lot of pain and dealing with his own mortality.
I feel like he used this song to pass on the baton that we should be something bigger and stronger than our past.
That we as a people need to unite.
That we should be fearless in the face of adversity.
That we should press on to be something greater than just ourselves.
That we all on our own are powerful and free.
I wish my Dad was here so we could talk about this song again. I suspect I was too young to fully grasp everything he meant to teach me about life through this song. But I love that I also learnt that music can give you wings to fly to different places in time both past and future. So anytime I hear it, I think of that day and I am with him.
Recently I came across Marianna Zappi's rendition for X factor auditions and of course I was reduced to tears.
All my old memories and the consciousness that this song awoke came flooding back.
I took to my computer and started writing about the song.
After playing Bob and Marianna's versions over and over again as I wrote, I googled her up. It was just something about way she sang it with so much feeling (and that is putting it mildly because the word to describe it fails me). She made the song grab my heart again. I googled her up and her story was moving. She was a domestic violence survivor.
She confirmed what I always knew about this song.
That this song, Redemption Song.
It is magic.
It gives you wings.
It gives you freedom.