February 6th, 2007

Uppy Earthday, Bob

As you may know, today is Bob Marley’s birthday (or “earthday” in Rasta parlance).

As you may have noticed, I write very rarely about Bob Marley for a guy who writes about reggae. Not because I don’t find him worthy of consideration, celebration, and critique, but b/c he so thoroughly dominates the reggae literature (perhaps for good reason), at the expense of other important narratives.

At any rate, given this auspicious day and the resonance of one of my favorites from Bob’s oeuvre with my New Wine, Old Bottles post of a couple days ago, I couldn’t resist sharing this powerful chantdown of, as he calls it, “Babylon System” —

Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Babylon System” (from Survival)

On top of that binghi bounce & bright band backative, Bob brings the fire, full of vivid images:

We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be —
We are what we are
That’s the way (that’s the way) it’s going to be, if you don’t know…
You can’t educate I
For no equal opportunity —
(Talkin bout my freedom) Talk-in bout my freedom,
People freedom (freedom) and liberty!

Yeah, we been troddin on the winepress much too long —
Rebel, rebel!
Yes, we been troddin on the winepress much too long —
Rebel, rebel!

Babylon system is the vampire, yeah (vampire)
Suckin the children day by day, yeah
Me say, the Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Suckin the blood of the sufferahs, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah! —
Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
Me say them graduatin thieves and murderers
Look out now: they suckin the blood of the sufferahs (sufferahs)
Yea-ea-ea! (sufferahs)

Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth right now!
Come on and tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
You got to tell the children the truth

‘Cause we been troddin on your winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!
And we been taken for granted much too long:
Rebel, rebel now!


So much to love/say about this song and its (musical) poetics: the way the I-Threes anticipate him on “talkin’ bout my freedom” (allowing him to stretch it out, syncopated stylee), the fingering of “church and university” in the vicious system (which I take to heart), the glorious gospel turn to “Tell the children,” the sincere strain of his voice, and of course, that pregnant metaphor of “troddin on the winepress” — i.e., laboring for the luxury of the vampire-class — despite that wine (save for ginger wine and Red Label wine [and Dutty Wine!!]) is not really something Jamaica is known for.

You’re still very much with us, Bob. I&I appreciate the vibes, every time.

Bless up —


  • 1. John Schaefer  |  February 6th, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    The winepress is an apocalyptic reference to divine justice and deliverance in the end times, from the Revelation of St. John. These are Steinbeck’s “grapes of wrath”…

    Revelation 14:19-20:

    And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

    So the image is not of the workers “troddin’ on the winepress,” some sort of Jamaican verb tense alternative for “treading” (“we’ve been treading”) but rather that the Rastaman has “been trodden” or “trod upon”–the Rastaman is the grape, giving up his own blood.

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  February 6th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for the exegesis, John. Just goes to show I never paid enough attn in Sunday School. That interpretation certainly gives the song more coherence, what with the blood sucking imagery and all. I’m gonna hold onto my Marxist misreading too, though!

  • 3. John Schaefer  |  February 6th, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    No, it also works that way! The worker is the victim of Christian class-based society (remember: “I’m sick’n’tired of your ism-schism ways, dyin’ and goin’ to heaven in Jesus’ name”). Just in this case perhaps there’s an idea that the Rastaman is both the victim of being crushed as well as the one being forced to do the crushing.

    I will stand by my understanding of the verb tense: We have been “trodden” (upon) and “taken” (for granted)–no “ing” verbs there at all, rather the “we” is the object of the verb.

    Man that’s a great album! I love the swing of “One Drop”. Thanks for the posting.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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