Bob Marley – Exodus | Return To The Classics

On June 3rd 1977 Bob Marley released one of the most defining, and best selling records of his career. Recorded primarily in London, Exodus came six months after an assassination attempt in Kingston, Jamaica, documenting Marley’s thoughts and feelings over the incident and serving as an aural representation of many Jamaicans discontentment with the political landscape in the island at that time. Featuring some of the reggae legend’s most emotive material, Exodus also captured his well-publicised relationship with Jamaican beauty queen, Cindy Breakspeare.

While his biggest success was yet to come, by the mid-late ’70s Marley had become a global star; in ’74 the original Wailers line-up (with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) had disbanded and instead of bandmates, the new Wailers were now Bob’s backing band, providing supporting instrumentation while the I-Threes, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and Bob’s wife Rita Marley provided vocal harmonies. 1975’s “No Woman, No Cry” was the first record to top the charts outside of Jamaica, and Exodus’ predecessor, Rastaman Vibration, released April 1976, was Marley’s breakthrough album into the American market.

Just two months after Rastaman Vibration’s release, June 19th, Jamaica declared a national state of emergency. A climatic point in Jamaica’s political tensions between 1974 and 1980, the months leading up to December 1976’s general election, saw violence break out, mainly between supporters of the two main political parties, the left-wing People’s National Party (PNP) and it’s leader and then-prime minister, socialist Michael Norman Manley and the conservative (conversely named) Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and leader Edward Seaga.

To understand the spate of political violence and it’s effect on Marley and Exodus is to understand the landscape on which Jamaican politics is set; since Jamaica’s independence from the British colony in 1962, the political culture in the island has been highly competitive and seeped in rivalry which directly affected the island’s citizens – Jamaicans had (and to some extent, still have) a vested belief in the policies of their parties and relied on politicians to guide the young country’s growth. Thus, politics affected every social area, from the elite society in Jamaica to the ghettos and huge focus was placed on which of the two main political parties individuals, families, neighbourhoods and parishes support.

Rather than pledge a political side, Bob Marley had formed relationships with key figures in both the PNP and the JLP. A move which, according to his close friend and former manager Don Taylor, Marley had taken in an attempt to unify the parties and quell the angst between the parties’ supporters.

Bob wanted to demonstrate without question to the people of Jamaica, and indeed the world, that opposing parties could live together in peace and show respect for each other. “God never made no difference between black, white, blue, pink or green. People is people, yuh know. That is the message we try to spread.”

Guns And Ganja – Don Taylor

In an attempt to relieve the political tensions, which were at boiling point, Marley and his team organised a free concert with prime-minister Michael Manley, called ’Smile Jamaica’, for Jamaicans of all classes and political allegiances to take place on 5th December. Though Marley specified that the show was not meant to be politicised in any way, many JLP affiliates, party members and supporters felt it implied Marley was a supporter of the PNP. On 3rd December, just two days before the show, gunmen ambushed Marley’s Kingston 6 home, seriously injuring Don Taylor and Rita, and injuring Marley. The singer shocked many by still performing on 5th December, delivering a 90 minute set despite his wounds.

Following the concert, Marley left Jamaica for 18 months, staying in Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios in the Bahamas for a month, before journeying to London where he completed Exodus.

1977 was also an interesting time in London. Black Britons were defining their social and cultural position in the city, the idea of rebellion and activism permeated through the creative output young Londoners – from punk rock to the roots reggae music movement. Marley exposed himself to London life, even playing football in Battersea Park, and the city’s influences are also heard on Exodus.

Side A of the record, released on 12” vinyl, is a direct response and reflection on the fateful shooting and, perhaps more importantly for Marley the circumstance surrounding it. The album’s brooding opening, “Natural Mystic” speaks to the shift in consciousness in oppressed or socially challenged people in Jamaica and beyond.

In “So Much Things To Say” Marley speaks defiantly and unapologetically to those who questioned his motives, drawing reference to Jesus Christ, Marcus Garvey and Paul Bogle’s respective stories of persecution then subsequent martyring. “Guiltiness” follows, where he accuses those in power of taking from the masses and suggests that guiltiness is ‘pressed on their conscience’. “The Heathen” is the album’s cut for activists and freedom fighters, as Marley implores society’s rebels fight for their beliefs regardless of obstacles and opposition, amidst the I-Threes’ chants of “the heathen back, yeah, pon de’ wall!” and a sharp, electric guitar solo.

“Exodus”, the title-track which features half-way through the album (and would have ended side A on the original vinyl record), is a 7-minute long track which not only represents Marley’s ‘exodus’ from Jamaica, but also speaks about the journey of people from the African diaspora leaving the Western world (‘Babylon’) and returning to Africa, and in a less direct sense can be interpreted as a shift away from negativity.

The second half of Exodus delivers an optimistic and uplifting spin on the political unrest Marley witnessed in Jamaica and beyond. It also saw Marley exposing a different side of himself, where he addresses feelings born from his extra-marital relationship to Damian Marley’s mother, Cindy Breakspeare.

“Jammin” provides a jubilant opening to the second half of the record. Started in the Bahamas but completed in London, the dub-heavy track places listeners in a jam-session with Marley and the band. “Jammin” also displays a stubborn determination to persevere beyond his experience, as Marley sings, “No bullet can stop us now” in the first verse.

One of many odes to Cindy Breakspeare over the years, “Waiting In Vain” was recorded while the two were apart due to Marley being in London, just a few months after Cindy fell pregnant with Damian. According to rumour, Rita refused to sing backing vocal on this and “Turn Your Lights Down Low” during live performances as she knew the songs were intended for Marley’s mistress.

“Turn Your Lights Down Low”, which was most notably covered by Marley’s future daughter-in-law Lauryn Hill, is a sensual track in which Marley croons “I want to give you some love” while the I-Threes provide ethereal harmonies.

The album ends with “Three Little Birds” and “One Love/ People Get Ready”, two huge hits for Marley. Respectively, the tracks speak of hopefulness for not only Jamaica’s future, but the future of mankind. “One Love/ People Get Ready” fuses the original, 1965 cut of “One Love” by the original Wailers and the Curtis Mayfield-penned 1965 R&B track, “People Get Ready”, promoting the unity of all people.

From the anger at feeling persecuted, the angst at the political unrest of his homeland, to the sense of global rebellion and defiance against the system, and hopefulness for the future, Exodus captures the social impetus of this time, and defines a seminal point in Bob Marley’s career and life.