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War (Bob Marley song)

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Title: War (Bob Marley song)  
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Subject: Retribution (Shadows Fall album), Rastafari movement, Rastafari, List of anti-war songs, Haile Selassie
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War (Bob Marley song)

"War" is a song recorded and made popular by Bob Marley. It first appeared on Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1976 Island Records album, Rastaman Vibration, Marley's only top 10 album in the USA. (In UK it reached position 15 May 15, 1976.) The lyrics are almost literally derived from a speech made by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I before the United Nations General Assembly in June 1963.

Songwriting Controversy

According to Stephen Davis' biography "Bob Marley," it also appears that Marley had credited several of his multi-million selling 1974-1976 songs to close friends and relatives because he was under an unfavorable publishing contract, signed in April 1968 with Cayman Publishing, that would have otherwise deprived him of much of his songwriting royalties. Crediting close friends, such as football player Allen "Skill" Cole or Wailers drummer Carlton "Carly" Barrett therefore enabled Bob Marley to circumvent the law until new, more favorable agreements were made. This practice, along with the practice of rewarding friends who contributed to compositions by crediting them — even if they only contributed with ideas — and Marley's sudden death without leaving a will all combined to create confusion about the copyright status of several songs, including "War".

"War"is credited to Allen "Skill" Cole (idea) and Carlton Barrett (music); the music was an extension of the one-drop drumming style, which Carlton Barrett had developed and refined, if not invented. The lyrics are a near-exact repetition of a speech in the UN by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. However, the two simple guitar chords and the semi-improvised, spirited melody put to Selassie's words is unmistakably Marley's.

Barrett's brother, Wailer musician Aston "Family Man" Barrett (who created the bass line, key to the song's efficiency) has since brought lawsuits against the Marley estate (in practice, the widow Rita Marley) for unpaid royalties and credit for songs such as War that were claimed to have been either written by others and not by Bob Marley, or in collaboration with Marley.[1] One such suit reached a settlement in 1994 in which Barrett was paid $500,000.[2] Barrett later continued to pursue legal action, seeking £60 million ($113.6 million at the time) in a suit against the Island-Universal record label and the Marley family, but the case was dismissed on the grounds that the earlier settlement proscribed any further claim on the estate[1][2]

Bob Marley was originally an extremely talented song writer, but during the ska-, rocksteady- and the primitive reggae era, only Peter Tosh could play the guitar in The Wailers. Carlton Barrett was considered the most promising young reggae drummer in Jamaica when he belonged to Lee "Scratch" Perry's studio band The Upsetters, and when Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer broke with Perry in 1972, they "stole" The Barrett brothers from Perry. The Barrett Brothers have a very large part in the development of Bob Marley's special sound, that does not sound like other reggae music. When Tosh and Wailer left 1973, it was Aston Barrett's idea to rearrange the band's music room, to create a rehearsal room, and set it up like a little demo studio to tape the new concept of lyrics, melodies, and music. Bob Marley and the Wailers started to prepare themselves much better musically before they were ready to go into the studio. The first work was the album called Natty Dread 1974 (where "No Woman No Cry" and "Rebel Music" can be found, and the second album was Rastaman Vibration with the songs "War" and "Want More" (Aston Barrett).[3] After Marley's death, it was not easy to determine who did what in creating music. The songs "grew" naturally through rehearsals, etc., but when it came to Bob Marley and the Wailers, the band members were convinced that they were led by a prophet who inspired them all. Bob Marley was extremely charismatic, and after his death in 1981 many of the band members had difficulties making a living, sometimes due to depression and personal crises. The royalty battles are really deeply tragic, but the situation has improved in many ways since Marley's sons David (Ziggy) and Stephen took over the heritage, the copyrights and the responsibility.


Marley, along with fellow Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco had declined the invitation).

This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie I had made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936, when he spoke at The League of Nations (L.O.N.) in Geneva. It was there that Selassie warned the world that if member state Ethiopia was not militarily supported by other member states to fight the fascist Italian invasion of his country then taking place, as the L.O.N. status guaranteed, the League of Nations would then cease to exist as a matter of fact. And according to him, without much needed L.O.N. tutelage (as dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were about to join forces), the rest of the member states were to suffer the same fate as his country. Which they did, as Mussolini soon allied with Hitler. This visionary speech granted Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped freeing his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Selassie's words bore full weight. In picking this utterance for lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God Rastafarians see with him.

The Lyrics

Although credited to Emperor Haile Selassie I, whose Christian name is Tafari Makonen, the real author of the text remains uncertain. It is sometimes believed that it was written by Lorenzo Tazaz, a close contributor who wrote many of the Ethiopian leader's most important speeches, including a historic one given in 1935 to the League of Nations. But Tazaz died in 1947, over fifteen years before the 1963 U.N. utterance. Spoken in Ethiopia's official Amharic language at the U.N., the 1963 speech was published in English in Important Utterances of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I 1963-1972.[4] The book gave permission to freely use its contents: "Any portion of this book could be reproduced by any process without permission." The song uses part of Selassie’s speech that calls for equality among all without regard to race, class, or nationality in his hymnal cry for peace. It also asserts, quoting Selassie directly, that until the day of an equal society, there will be war. In the original speech, Selassie urged U.N. officials and country representatives to disarm nuclear weapons, and to end international exploitation (specifically with Africa). The song honors Haile Selassie I while calling for action against racial inequality and international injustice. The part of the speech used by Bob Marley was preceded by the following words:

Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire. On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:

Here is the part of Haile Selassie’s speech put to music by Marley in his original song “War” (Bob Marley slightly modified the original words, changing each "that until" to "until" and added the word "war" several times):

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie I

Here are the lyrics from the Bob Marley and the Wailers at the album Rastaman Vibration:

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / -Everywhere is war - / Me say war.
That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man's skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / - Me say war.
That until the basic human rights / Are equally guaranteed to all, / Without regard to race / - Dis a war.
That until that day / The dream of lasting peace, / World citizenship / Rule of international morality / Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, / But never attained / - Now everywhere is war - / War.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes / that hold our brothers in Angola, / In Mozambique, / South Africa / Sub-human bondage / Have been toppled, / Utterly destroyed / - Well, everywhere is war - / Me say war.
War in the east, / War in the west, / War up north, / War down south - / War - war - / Rumours of war. / And until that day, / The African continent / Will not know peace, / We Africans will fight - we find it necessary / - And we know we shall win / As we are confident / In the victory
Of good over evil -/ Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil - / Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil - / Good over evil, yeah!

A different mix, which includes a different horn arrangement, released as a bonus track in the Deluxe Edition (2002) of the Rastaman Vibration album, revealed that Marley had recorded an extra verse also adapted from the original speech: Until bigotry and prejudice, malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good will, yeah, war. Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings equal in the eyes of the almighty, war. Everywhere is war.

In his speech to the U.N., Selassie reminded his listeners that these are only words; their value depends wholly on our will to observe and honor them and give them content and meaning.

The Song

War audio sample

Problems playing this file? See .

The original version of "War" was recorded at Harry J's studio in Kingston, Jamaica, by engineer Sylvan Morris. It includes Aston "Family Man" Barrett on Fender Jazz bass, his brother Carlton 'Carly' Barrett on drums, Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar, Alvin "Seeco" Patterson on percussion and Tyrone Downie on keyboards. Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley sing harmony vocals as the I Three. It was produced by Bob Marley & The Wailers and mixed at Miami's Criteria studio by Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Chris Blackwell with engineer Alex Sadkin.

With such potent and meaningful lyrics, the song soon became one of Bob Marley's greatest classics, carrying the Rastafari message to the world in Haile Selassie I's own words. As from 1977, when Bob Marley & The Wailers embarked for their first major world tour in June, "War" was sung at most concerts until Marley's last show on September 23, 1980 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two live recordings of the song have since been released officially by Tuff Gong/Island Records. The first one was issued on the 1978 "Babylon by Bus" album recorded live at the Pavillon de Paris in Paris, France on June 26, 1978. The second was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London, England on June 4, 1977, and was issued on the 2001 Deluxe Edition of the Exodus album. Predating these two is another version, recorded on May 26, 1976 and released in 2003 on Live at the Roxy.

Haile Selassie version

Two other hit versions of the song featuring Bob Marley & the Wailers can also be heard. A vinyl single released in Jamaica on Bruno Blum's Human Race label in December 1997 includes samples of Bob Marley's voice saying "Rastafari is the prince of Peace." But most importantly, the song features the original recording[5] of Haile Selassie I's Amharic speech done in 1963, overdubbed on a new rhythm track played by Wailers original members. The B-side offers a welcome English translation of the speech by Bruno Blum,[6] whose spoken rendition of War[7] includes the second part of the speech not used by Bob Marley:

The basis of racial discrimination and colonialism has been economic, and it is with economic weapons that these evils have been and can be overcome. In pursuance of resolutions adopted at the Addis Ababa summit conference, African states have undertaken certain measures in the economic field which, if adopted by all member states of the United Nations, would soon reduce intransigeance to reason. I ask, today, for adherence to these measures by every nation represented [here] which is truly devoted to the principles enunciated in the charter. We must act while we can, while the occasion exists to exert those legitimate pressures available to us lest time run out and resort be had to less happy means. The great nations of the world would do well to remember that in the modern age even their own fates are not wholly in their hands. Peace demands the united efforts of us all. Who can foresee what spark might ignite the fuse? The stake of each one of us is identical-life or death. We all wish to live. We all seek a world in which men are freed of the burdens of ignorance, poverty, hunger and disease. And we shall all be hard-pressed to escape the deadly rain of nuclear fall-out should catastrophe overtake us. The problems which confront us today are, equally, unprecedented. They have no counterparts in human experience. Men search the pages of history for solutions, for precedents, but there are none. This then, is the ultimate challenge. Where are we to look for our survival, for the answers to the questions which have never before been posed ? We must look, first, to the Almighty God, Who has raised man above the animals and endowed him with intelligence and reason. We must put our faith in Him, that He will not desert us or permit us to destroy humanity which He created in His image. And we must look into ourselves, into the depth of our souls. We must become something we have never been and for which our education and experience and environment have ill-prepared us. We must become bigger than we have been : more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.

A second mix of this new recording was also released, charting at the #1 spot in the U.K. Echoes magazine in April 1998. This time it featured samples of Bob Marley & the Wailers' song Selassie Is the Chapel (adapted from Crying in the Chapel), where Bob and Rita Marley's voices can be heard on a sizeable part of the record, as well as Selassie's original "foundation lead vocal," creating a virtual duet between Haile Selassie I and his apostle Bob Marley. Both new versions were recorded at Kingston Musick Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, engineered by Rudy Thomas. They include Wailers survivors Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass guitar and piano, Mikey "Boo" Richards" on drums and Earl "Wire" Lindo on keyboards, along with guitar and backing vocals by Bruno Blum. Percussionist Norbert "Nono" Nobour and backing singer Tatiana Prus were later added. The sessions were produced by Bruno Blum and mixed by Thierry Bertomeu at AB Studio in St. Denis, France.

Released in Europe on Blum's Rastafari label in early 1998, both "War" and "War/Selassie Is the Chapel" were successful singles contributing to the "new roots" reggae scene where Rastafari themes sung by the likes of Garnett Silk, Luciano and Dennis Brown were popular again after more than a decade of decline. Several singles derived from this new recording were subsequently issued on the label, including Buffalo Bill's War/Warmongers, Big Youth's We No Want No War and Joseph Cotton's Conflicts backed by Doc Reggae's spoken French version Guerre.[8] A full length CD album entitled The War Album, including all versions, was issued in Europe on the Rastafari label in 2001. A vinyl album was released in Jamaica on the Human Race label in 2004, and the full War Album was reissued in 2010 as part of the Human Race label double CD anthology.

Cover versions

  • Jamaican versions (different compositions) based on the "War" rhythm include Dillinger's King Pharaoh Was a Baldhead, Big Youth's We No Want No War, Joseph Cotton's Conflicts and Buffalo Bill's Warmongers.
  • Washington, DC hardcore punk band Soulside covered "War" on their 1988 Dischord Records release, Trigger. This song was later included on the Soulside partial discography, Soon Come Happy, released in 1990.
  • The Catalonian band Sopa de Cabra recorded a Catalan rock and roll version of War - "Guerra" - in the live album Ben endins (1991).
  • Alpha Blondy song "La Guerre" is a direct translation of "War" in French, available on the 1994 EMI album Dieu.
  • Buffalo Bill, a roots reggae singer from Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, covered the song on a 1998 Bruno Blum produced single released in the European Union (Rastafari Records). All the Blum-produced War versions are available on the Human Race (Patch Work, 2011) double CD anthology of Blum's Jamaican label Human Race Records. Music played by The Wailers.
  • In 1997 Bruno Blum released a spoken English version of "War" which includes a large part of the original full length speech, available on the now deleted Jamaican "War" vinyl single by Haile Selassie I (Human Race Records) and on The War Album (Rastafari Records, 2001), also deleted. All Blum-produced War versions are available on the Human Race (Patch Work, 2011) double CD anthology of Blum's Jamaican label Human Race Records. Music played by The Wailers.
  • In 1998 Bruno Blum released a spoken French version available on The War Album (Rastafari Records, 2001) as well as the B-side of Joseph Cotton's Conflicts vinyl single (Rastafari Records, 2010). All Blum-produced War versions are available on the Human Race (Patch Work, 2011) double CD anthology of Blum's Jamaican label Human Race Records. Music played by The Wailers.
  • 2007: Dispatch: Zimbabwe: July 13–15, a 3 night reunion concert for Dispatch with special quests Bongo Love and the African Children's Choir. Was a benefit concert to help Zimbabwe with poverty, disease, and famine. In memory of Elias a friend of theirs from Zimbabwe who died because he did not receive the medical attention that he needed. Dispatch played "War" but they were not able to put it on the CD of the show because they didn't have legal rights.
  • Lauryn Hill occasionally performed the song live, along with the other compositions of Bob Marley, during her shows circa 2007 and 2008.
  • Uruguayan band El Congo recorded a Spanish version of the song on a 1999 album.
  • 2009: War/No more trouble played by street musicians around the world for the "Playing for Change" project.[1]
  • In 2009 American metal band Shadows Fall released their album "Retribution" which has a rendition of the song on it. The song is not a pure cover, but utilizes about 70% of the lyrics.
  • Alicia Keys regularly performs the song at her shows, and has performed the song at least once with Marley's son Julian Marley.

See also


  1. ^ a b Miller, Mark and Blum, Bruno, Sur la route avec Bob Marley, page 97. Scali, France, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Bandmate of Marley loses suit". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. May 16, 2006. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Obrecht, Jas (2011) "Aston “Family Man” Barrett: A New Interview About Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and The Wailers" i Jas Obrecht Muic Archive, 14 feb 2011.
  4. ^ Important Utterances of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I 1963-1972, The Imperial Ethiopian Ministry of Information, Addis Ababa, 1972
  5. ^ Listen to a sample of the hit version of War featuring Haile Selassie I's voice:
  6. ^ Read more about Bruno Blum:
  7. ^ Listen to the English rendition of War by Bruno Blum:
  8. ^ Listen to the French rendition of Guerre by Bruno Blum:
  9. ^ "Discography: For the Love of Money". 2004. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 

External links

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