Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

More Reggae

Album cover art. The Harder They Come, 1972.

It’s a warm, sunny day in Rochester, NY and my office is resounding with the soundtrack to The Harder They Come—a reggae classic. It prompts me to follow up on an earlier post that discussed how Bob Marley carried a copy of the King James Bible with him and often engaged friends in religious debate. Marley and other reggae artists also incorporated verses from the KJV into their lyrics and I thought I’d share a couple with you.   

One example of Marley’s use of Bible verse is his song “Small Axe” .  Click here to watch on YouTube.

A helpful website “dedicated to matching Reggae song lyrics to Biblical quotations” compares Marley’s “Small Axe” to the biblical passages from which he drew his inspiration. For example, they show how Marley drew inspiration from Proverbs 26:27 and Ecclesiastes 10:8 for the song’s refrain.

Marley: “And whosoever diggeth a pit, Lord, Shall fall in it – shall fall in it.

Whosoever diggeth a pit Shall bury in it – shall bury in it.”

Proverbs 26:27 – “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.”

Ecclesiastes 10:8 – “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.”

Perhaps my personal favorite example of the use of Biblical verse in Reggae music is the Melodians “Rivers of Babylon” (1970), a highlight of The Harder They Come soundtrack.  Songwriters Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton beautifully interpret Psalms 19 and 137 with Rastafarian references to Emperor Haile Selassie I as “King Alpha” and “Fari” or “Jah Rastafari.

 Click here to watch on YouTube.

Psalm 137:  “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” 

Psalm 19:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Melodians “Rivers of Babylon”:

“By the rivers of Babylon
Where he sat down
And there he wept
When he remembered Zion

‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
In a strange land?

So, let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Oh, Fari”

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

2 responses

  1. Wonderful! I love the Melodians Psalm 137 too, but it was also covered in a very popular version by Bony M. A different song entirely, but also a cool adaptation of Psalm 137, is “Jerusalem” by the Orthodox Jewish Reggae/Hip hop singer Matisyahu. The refrain is

    Jerusalem, if I forget you,
    let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.

    One world!

    Hannibal

    June 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm

  2. Pingback: Reggae Vault Classics Pays Tribute to the Emperor « Highlanda Sound System

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