Bob Marley and the glory of exodus
Bob Marley’s position as the King of Reggae was undisputed and could never have been disputed. He was truly a master of his craft in every sense. Among many soul lifting albums of music that Marley contributed to global Art and Entertainment, EXODUS is in a remarkable class of its own. In this 35th anniversary tribute, Bayo Daramola celebrates the merits of the superlative EXODUS.
It was on the eve of the turn of the millennium in 1999 when the reputable and authoritative TIME Magazine resoundingly honoured the memory of Robert Nesta Marley by declaring his EXODUS LP as the greatest album of the musically flamboyant 20th century.
Later in 2001, the TV network VH1 would name the same Exodus as the 26th greatest album of all time and, in 2003, the album was ranked No. 129 on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, just to cite a few of the most notable accolades showered on Nesta Marley’s Exodus. Checking out the merits of Exodus should be rewarding. A close look at factors that gave it a distinctive rank with the experts should be thrilling since the triumph of Exodus was not a fluke. It happened for concrete reasons.
When it appeared freshly on the global music orbit on June 3, 1977, the 10-Track vinyl represented a major career breakthrough for Bob Marley and the Wailers (BMW.) This was then a brand new musical release that richly blended vociferous protest anthems like Natural Mystic, Heathen, So Much things to Say and Guiltiness with bouncy and alluring Lovers’ Rock renditions like Waiting In Vain, Three Little Birds and
Turn Your Lights down Low.
Ironically, in the Western media, a good measure of doubt, anxiety and uncertainty typified the initial sentiments with which music and entertainment industry pundits received Exodus. Some of these opinion molders in the art and music sphere in Europe, America and Japan were simply dissatisfied at first with what was described as an obvious absence of drama, street flavor and socio-psychological intrigue in the songs of Exodus.
Insofar as some of them were concerned, these vital elements: drama, street flavor and emotional intrigue triggered by the infusion of the unexpected are the factors that carry indelible responsibility for the enduring attractiveness of well known BMW hits like Mr. Brown, Duppy Conqueror, Johnny Was, I Shot the Sheriff, Concrete Jungle, Kinky Reggae and Keep on Moving.
For the reason that the story telling element contributes ultimately to lyrical beauty and vocal delivery impacting in song composition, there remains a valid sense in which these worries and concerns may be accepted as legitimate in the main. Yet, whatever Exodus may have lacked due to absence of heightened dramatic episodes in the mix, it made up for by its crystal clear brilliance in other meritorious angles of artistic appeal.
For the avoidance of doubt, it is plain and clear that in Exodus the power and beauty of art in the musical form was manifested stylishly first and foremost through the formula by which the album balanced Lovers’ Rock with Protest Art which was creative and inventive to say the least.
Religion and politics are vitally ubiquitous and recurrent life themes that dictate the flow and tempo of social life as well as the content of the individual and collective human frame of mind all over the world in real terms that brook no abstract assumptions. Very notably, Woe to the downpressors/ they’ll eat the bread of sorrow is a barbed Exodus backlash against political victimization from the “Guiltiness” track.
Therefore, the power of Exodus is obvious in its bold, unpretentious and overwhelming emphasis on politics and religion with an amazing, fluent outpour of real to life imagery. Even as works of art, the songs of Exodus were fully in tune with basic truths of the human condition in flesh and blood form. Just listen to: I’ll never forget no way: they crucified Jesus Christ and the tilt to divinity cannot be mistaken in “So much things to Say.”
With I & I don’t come to fight flesh and blood but spiritual wickedness in high and low places/ so while they fight me down stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises, the Rastafarian preference is voiced with no equivocation of any sort.
Furthermore, the extremely biblical album title constitutes a masterstroke of genius on Bob’s part as an inventive composer. Considering that Christianity and the Bible coexist significantly at the core of common sentiment and emotional stability in the Euro-American world, this biblically inspired title may even be the singular most compelling reason why the musical work became spontaneously popular and irresistibly appealing in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA.
Consciously or unwittingly, BMW’s Western World audience fell in love with Marley’s creative acumen and Exodus achieved commercial success of dreamlike proportion, conferring international superstardom on a former West Indian ghetto youth-man called Robert Nesta Marley.
Everybody knows that the Holy Bible’s second book is titled Exodus. Still, at this juncture, a note of caution is appropriate because, with the lyrics of Exodus, but without being attitudinally licentious, Nesta Marley actually exercised what can be qualified as standard artistic/poetic license.
Some authorities have claimed that Marley’s creative implulse for the lyrics was ignited initially by former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley’s 1976 election campaign slogan which stated that We know where we are going.
Lyrically, Marley would declare in Exodus that “We know where we are going/ We know where we are from/ We are leaving Babylon/ We are going to our fatherland/ In this Exodus/ The movement of Jah People.”
It is a matter of fact that the biblical Exodus chronicled Israel’s movement to liberty from captivity. However, whereas Marley’s lyrics speak of movement away from Babylonian captivity, the biblical book of Exodus documented the movement of Israel from Egyptian captivity in an era when the nation’s experience of captivity in Babylon still stood in the distant and unknown future. At any rate, this was a simple case of artistic prerogative on the songwriter’s part.
Versatile instrumentation enhanced the warm reception that Exodus would enjoy at last on the world stage, especially the prominence of horns, keyboard and guitar licks. Veering off from the traditional Jamaican tilt towards heavy drum and bass, this new and refreshing approach allowed reggae according to Marley to acquire an international sound in the actual sense of it by bearing instrumental resemblance to the blues, funk and rock n’ roll to the extent that some observers were even worried that BMW may be embracing disco.
Nevertheless, it was nothing more than an inevitable stylististic metamorphosis in the valid quest for a broad based global appeal without tarnishing the uniquely Carribean root rock undercurrent.
By loudly voicing deep concern for the prevalence of abject poverty and chronic deprivation among the masses who existed as the dregs of society, the songs of Exodus proved to be authentic expressive vents explicit enough to help ease the traumas that torment the desperately marginalized urban poor, not only in Kingston, but all over the world wherever humble folk experience agonizing lack in the midst of flagrant abundance among the rich, uncaring elite.
Something quite interesting about Exodus is that it was a celebration of life because it was recorded while Bob and other members of the band were in exile in London after an assassination attempt against him and his manager and band members failed in Kingston in1976. With “Three Little Birds,” an ode to joy if there was ever one, we hear that Don’t worry about a thing/ Cause every little thing is gonna be alright. Life was looking good and rewarding indeed.
Little wonder that the songs of Exodus had the danceable bounce. Bob was happy that JAH spared his life, giving him another chance. The album had a one word title and every other BMW album afterward would have a one word title. Through commercial, lyrical, instrumental and socio-psychological achievement, Exodus put Bob Marley on new and higher pedestal after which he never slowed down and he never looked back. That impact is still intact, even today.