This is Why Bob Marley wrote “War”, The Best Protest Song

Tuesday, June 2, 2020, 6:15 PM

Bob Marley, the Jamaican Superstar who was born in 1945 and died in 1981, Bob is credited as the one who took Reggae music to many places across the globe. The Reggae music genre, started in Jamaica, during the 1960’s and eventually made its way to many other countries.

 In 1976 his song ‘War’ was recorded with the Wailers and featured on the album ‘Rastaman Vibrations’, it is seen as a protest song as there were a number of oppressive situations in the world at the time and Marley even wrote about the leadership of some countries.


The lyrics were partially inspired by a speech that was made by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, when he saw the Italian aggression against his people.

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Marley appreciated the speech and added it when he did a rehearsal locally with the Wailers; before he took it a step further and used the speech for the lyrics of the song “War”.

In this article, you will see why this song is classified as a protest song. In the 2 first paragraphs of the speech, Bob denounced the discrimination against Blacks in some countries, just as the emperor did, as he saw that all the races were not considered to be equal.

In the song, he declared a pacific war on that philosophy and fought against discrimination. In one line he said, “Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, a mi seh war”. He just couldn’t see why people were finding reasons to separate races so they could fight against the Black nation.

He also sang about the victory of good over evil and made the request for basic human rights to be granted to all without regard to race.

The Rastafarian singer/songwriter also directly denounced the political regimes in Mozambique, South Africa, and Angola. He made his position clear and his song made the oppressed people feel that there was someone who knew what they were going through.

The song was written in 1963 when apartheid was reigning in South Africa and there was a dictatorial rule by the Portuguese dictatorial Government, it was in place in Mozambique and Angola. His song reflected the tension that was caused by racism and slavery.

He referred to Selassie whose reproach to Mussolini who did not respect the international rights with the colonization of Ethiopia and he declared that the African people will fight and win eventually, in the battle of good over evil. Throughout the song he says war and he even added to that by singing “war in the East, war in the West war up North war down South”.

Marley wanted international peace and clearly stated what was needed, such as the “rule of international morality” and said it was just an illusion, while he called for war. He thought racism was everywhere and the fight was necessary because of the discrimination.

“Until there is no first class and second class citizen of any nation, me say war,” in this line he was hitting out at classism, as he showed the importance of equality.

He said lasting peace would be an illusion that would be pursued but never attained if we could not apply morality to life so that basic human rights were granted to all.

What is war? An intense armed conflict between governments, countries, societies and states or other groups is seen as war. It is normally characterized by extreme aggression, destruction, violence, military forces with various weapons, death, and trauma.

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In international circles, the song is listed as a protest song and an anthem against racism and it is sung whenever Black people feel the need to fight for their rights.  There has been many covers made of the song by many recording artistes, it is both an ode to peace and an encouragement to fight against oppression. It was adapted when there were other forms of oppression like sexual violence on children, when it was done by Sinnead O’Connor to denounce the act.

Some scholars see war as an ancestral and universal aspect of human nature while others believe it could be a result of specific socio-cultural, ecological, or economic circumstances. However, over the years, peace has been much more affordable and war is resorted to many times when all other options have failed. In many cases people are left suffering and there are many casualties. The rebuilding process can be very expensive.

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