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Bob Marley ‘Get Up, Stand Up (1973)’

How does this song express an anti-imperialist and/or Pan-Africanist viewpoint?

The song Get up Stand Up by Bob Marley is a song that expresses a Pan Africanist and anti-imperialist view point. The chorus of the song calls for blacks to come together and fight against white oppression and to come together as one to lift themselves out of poverty and hate in the world. In the first verse of the song Bob Marley speaks directly to black youth talking about the pimps in their community giving them drugs and guns in order to control them so they can be used as soldiers, an example being that they were used against “niggers with birthrights”. He then goes on to say that these youths are celebrated in word but hated when they are offed by police officers or machines. This refers to black youths’ deaths as always being blamed on gang violence or drug use while they were executed by police officers almost 50% of the time (Prestholdt, 2020). The next lines talk about how people are held up by religion referring specifically to xenophobia within Christianity, which tells people that Palestinians are not human beings. Bob Marley’s song ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ draws on the imagery of enslaved Africans resisting their persecutors and fighting for their freedom. It establishes a solidarity and unity among Caribbean people, encouraging them to fight for their human rights and defy imperialists. The lyrics also draw on a sense of spirituality as Marley sings “one love, one heart”; this idea is perhaps made even more potent by the fact that it is both spoken (as if from a preacher or spiritual leader) and sung.

How does the music serve to deliver the message?

Bob Marley’s song ‘Get Up, Stand Up (1973)’ serves to deliver its anti-imperialist message through the revolutionary tone that it projects. The lyrics are a rallying cry to Marley’s audience. Marley uses powerful language which is almost militant in tone in order to forward his cause. Powerful messages are also conveyed by Marley’s own voice, the particular instruments he used and how they were played, and his use of repetition. All of these devices serve to deliver the anti-imperialist message of the song.

How do you situate this song within the history of Jamaica, Rastafarianism, and reggae that we learned about in class? How does the song engage that history? How does it compare to other reggae songs?

Though Bob Marley’s music reached millions and left a profound impact on countless lives, his music was inspired by the Rastafarian tradition. The song ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ encourages listeners to stand up against oppression, while also citing biblical sources. Given these religious influences, this song is part of the reggae genre known as roots reggae, which is characterized by more explicitly religious themes and messages. Jamaica was under British rule at this time, so his words must have had some effect (Prestholdt, 2020). The vibe of this song is very different from many reggae songs, as it is faster and more high energy/upbeat. Many reggae songs are more relaxed and slower paced. Once you listen to the lyrics it’s not hard to tell that this is a song about unity and freeing the country from oppression. While reggae songs often express love and peace, they can also be critical of injustice, thus placing them within the hopes-and-fears tradition (344), with roots reggae being an extension of that same tradition.

Why did you pick this song?

I believe this song offers a great motivation to all the individuals who are unable or unsure of how to deal with their problems. I also chose this song because it has influenced my life in a way that I feel is unique (Prestholdt, 2020). The sentiments and feelings of the people in the song remind me of how we should feel about one another. Even to the point where I feel it can be used as a means for educating people. There is no greater motivator and teacher than feeling. I did not pick and choose lyrics but rather the overall message that Bob Marley was trying to convey with this song.


Prestholdt, J. (2020). Between Revolution and the Market: Bob Marley and the Cultural Politics of the Youth Icon. In Researching Subcultures, Myth and Memory (pp. 171-194). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.


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