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Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley & the Wailers

Album: ConfrontationReleased: 1983Charted:
4
  • The Buffalo Soldiers were a segregated regiment of black cavalry fighters during the American campaign to rid the West of "Indians" so that "civilized" white people could gain the lands used by Native Americans. Ironically, many of the soldiers were slaves taken from Africa. Bob Marley gives a small history lesson as a protest song about the black man's role in building the country that continues to oppress him. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Rochester, NY
  • Released two years after Marley's death, this song was one of the last that he recorded. Issued as a single, it reached #4 on the UK charts, where Marley had as much success posthumously as he did when he was alive: seven more released charted after this one.

    The song was included on Confrontation (1983), which was the first Bob Marley album released after his death, and also on the hits collection Legend (1984), which became the best-selling reggae album of all time.
  • Marley wrote this song with fellow Jamaican, Noel Williams, who went by the name King Sporty. Williams was an inventive creator of dance music, blending reggae and disco on his 1975 track "Music Maker," and impelling the Miami bass sound as a producer of tracks like "Funky Fresh Beat" by Youth MC's, released in 1986.
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Comments: 35

I like this song a lot because it celebrates one of the many contributions of blacks in the United States. I feel bad for bringing it up but the phrase "fighting on arrival" is historically inaccurate. The Buffalo Soldiers were initially formed in 1866 and did most fighting in the 1870's. The United States banned the importation of slaves from Africa/Carribean in 1808, meaning after 1808 slaves no longer came from outside the United States to be sold. I guess it is possible that one of the Buffalo Soldiers could have been born in Africa/Carribean but that would mean that they were at least 58 years old and had lived in the United States their entire life. It would be very strange for someone that old to serve in the army and they definitely would not have been "fighting on arrival" as they would have been in the U.S for nearly 58 years.Tom - Houston, Texas
Just finished reading a book that points to the universality of this song. The book is 33 Men by Jonathan Franklin. It is the story of the survival and rescue of the Chilean miners. The quote is "A host of requests from the miners for specialized soundtracks and songs for their ascent helped assuage fears that the men would be able to handle the fifteen-minute solitary voyage. Victor Zamora pleaded to have Bob Marley's 'Buffalo Soldier'." Imagine being in that Phoenix capsule in hopes of reaching freedom after that long time trapped underground...."fighting for survival" ...there are so many layers to the message of this song....Sk - Ventura County, Ca
imdoing a class project about Bob and i needed tofind out what his songs meant. This is the perfect website to find all my curiosites thanks songfacts.com you guys ruleEthan - North Tonawanda , Ny
not sure how true this could be and have never actually sat down and listen to this song in this context but i once heard that this song is about jimmy hendrixMatthew - Perth, Australia
They were given their name by the Native Americans that called them buffalo soldiers cuz their short & curly hair was like the hair on the back of a buffalo's neck. They were compared with the buffalo's strength and tenacity. Duties were settling railroad disputes, building telegraph lines, repairing and building forts,helping settlers find a place to live and protecting the settlers from Indian attacks......Grab some ganja and listen to the song again..You'll understand.Raylah - Here, Ca
Sampling it may be but I have never been able to listen to this song withour picturing the Bannana Splits dressed as Buffalo Soldiers...and it is a disturbing image to say the least.Sorchia - Long Beach, Ca
This song is about Americans needing some extra hands. Whether it's a soldier for war or a slave for their home either way the Africans were fighting on arrival, fighting for survival." Americans thought of themselves as the hierarchy (11). And it's so ironic that they ran to the people they look down upon in their time of need. " Buffalo Soldiers war the war for America." Africans are the ones who helped build this country up, the ones who did all the farming and hard labor duties. Without them, getting here would've been more difficult. Without them, winning that war would not have been possible. The hierarchy individuals that get on the credit would be nothing without the ones below them.
WOO HOO LEE!!!
Mahina - Kaneohe, Haiti
The Banana Splits? Here I was all ready to immerse myself in the meaning of one of Marley's finest, and now I have to first rid myself of the distraction of a tune from an insipid afternoon children's show.Charles - Glenside, Pa
I didn't realize new comments post at the top of the page! Oops... I definitely would not say that Black Americans benefited from the racism of the whites! It's more like they took a really bad situation and used it to their advantage. They were not given any opportunities that they did not have to fight and sacrifice greatly for.Nikki - Halifax, Canada
Marley was a Rastifarian! It is not a "damned if you do, damned if you don't thing" at all. Rastas Don't believe in the same kind of hate and criticism that others do. The point of the music is not to lash out in anger; it is to educate people about their history so they can take control of their future. It's much more effective to learn from music that is peaceful than from music that is confrontational. I think Marley knew exactly what he was doing with the music and the message, sometimes it just takes patience to understand it.

As for angrier, harsher music and sad music, I still think they have their place. Everyone responds differently to different messages so for some, these genres might be really effective. I think the movement towards reggeton music is interesting. It reflects a lot about our times.
Nikki - Halifax, Canada
It is ironic how the white man deployed black troops to civilize the west, when the sentiment that blacks were unintelligible brutes perpetuated from the time of the Trans Atlantic slave trade, through the antebellum era, and into the Western Expansion. While some whites and blacks believed racism to have been beneficial for blacks because it "civilized them", whites certainly did not hold blacks as being equals or competent- why would they entrust them to conquer the Native Americans? It's like sending the nurse to do a surgery because the doctor's on his lunch break.

On a separate note, Marley wouldn't have crafted these lyrics from spite. True, the song is tragic. But I do not think the intention of this song is to release anger, but rather to educate and encourage tolerance through understanding- that was more Marley's style anyway.
Imani - Cincinnati, Oh
ok first of all ide like to say that bob rocks and ive met his sons and so do they. and second of all frank you could be the most retarted person on the earth because the slave drivers had a saying "keep there strenghth up and there brains dumb" so they would make the slaves more stupid so that they wouldn't rebell and they did rebel but they were usually found and then killed or tortured more then usuall. and a third thing chase ur an moron the buffalo soldier your refering to is hunters who would trick the buffalo by wereing the skin of the ones they already killed and then getting in to the heard and taking the buffalo by surprise u dumb ass.Ezra - Wheat Ridge, Co
To Paul from Cambridge, MA: Yes, it's terrible that the Buffalo Soldiers' job was to exterminate Indians. But it's Colin Powell, not Bob Marley, who got it wrong. "Stolen from Africa, brought to America/ Said he was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival" sounds as if the Buffalo Soldiers were forced into making a Faustian choice: They fought for the ones who captured and enslaved them simply to stay alive. The real point of the song, I believe, is not about the Buffalo Soldiers' heroics or gallantry, both of which were ample. Rather, it is about struggling for survival, and what choices and compromises people make. It's what many African-Americans mean when they talk about "going to meet The Man" or what young people from failed farms and rusting steel towns are doing when they join the Armed Forces--especially, of course, if they end up in conflagrations like Iraq and Afghanistan. They end up doing the work of the very people who put them in such unsavory positions. Of course, if Colin Powell ever had such thoughts, he had to have suppressed them in order to continue his military career. However, Bob Marley didn't make such a choice--I don't think he was capable of doing so--which is the reason why his music, and what he represents, are so wonderful. Now that I think of it, that is what the essence of war is: one side, which feels it has no other alternative, resorting to the very violence the other side used against them. It's a circle that hasn't been, but must be, broken if the human race is to have any hope. If only Bob were around to help keep the flame of hope flickering!Musicmama - New York, Ny
the buffalo soldiers got their name from the Cheyenne. at least that's what the AP US history book sittin in front of me says. i looked the song up to put in a powerpoint for tomorrow in classChase - Augusta, Ga
the meaning is sad and the affricans were acting stupid should have rebelledFrank - Ontario, United States
I think there are still a lot of 'Buffalo Soldiers' in this world, and not all of them are black.Richard - London, England
Buffalo soldiers are the epitomy of African bravery. It is sad to know that they suffered fighting a war that was nat their war. They deserve to be recognized as soldiers. Typical. Much love.Dwayne - Whanganui, New Zealand
Responding to Manuel, the Carribean had a certain significance because that was the location of the sugar cain feilds. Often called the crack cocain of the 1700's, sugar was mass produced by many Africain slaves.Cory - Dallas, Tx
i am agreeing with PAUL on this one there jod was to kill the native americans as "buffalo soilders" but i also disagree it doesnt mean they liked it, i mean if you were taken from your home town and dumped in to this new land you new nothing about, and were told to kill all native americans you could and you might get to go home wouldnt you do it?Rhiannon - Sydeny, Australia
To all the people who mentioned the "Bannana Splits":

Guys, it's called "Sampling" and there's nothing wrong with it. A
Mjn Seifer - Not Listed For Personal Reason, England
I want to know if the San Juan he mentions is the San Juan here in Puerto Rico or another one. I think so because he says they moved through the caribbean. I gotta research my history and find out what part of this story takes place here.Manuel - Puerto Rico, United States
The Buffalo soldiers job was to exterminate Indians. No matter how you sing it, that's what they did. And that is the central tragedy of America. Funny nobody else noticed that. No it isn't. White people wanted this country and they do not care about who they killled to get it. That's why Colin Powell likes them. Sorry Bob. You're a good man, but you missed this one.Paul - Cambridge, Ma
the african soilders were called buffalo soilders by the native americans becasue of their nappy dreddy hair, and how it was like that of a buffaloAnthony - Miamia, Fl
Joe from Washington's right. This is an incredibly poignant song, mixing up slavery and war and colonial history. It stirs the same emotions as "White Man" by Queen and "Zombie" by the Cranberries. Real life is a lot more complicated than the Colin Powell quote hinted at. Listen to Bob: Know Your History!!!Stu - Fife, Scotland
Gotta love Bob Marley. This song is an absolute classic and will stay that way for decades to come.Maggie - Perth, Australia
This one became a hit after Bob's dead. It was issued as a single and a part of posthumous album Confrontation in 1983 (Bob died in 1981) then on Legend the following year. GREAT TUNE !Flo - Toulouse, France
This is my 9yr old sons favorite song... It has also been one of mine since I was his age. A great song by A great man..David - Bellflower, Ca
Unfortunately, every time I hear the part of this song that goes "woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy..." (spelling from the Songfacts lyrics sheet), I think of the theme song from the 1960s children's show The Banana Splits. It's called The Tra La La Song, if any of you want to look it up.Bill - Southeastern Part Of, Fl
its a song that stirs your soulWill - Newbottle, England
I think you all, save Louis are missing the point a bit. This song speaks of the black man who was "stolen from Africa and brought to America. Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival". It is how they were used by the white man to destroy the Native people and take the land, because that was the only way to escape slavery. It's irony that it's upbeat, in that the song is purely tragic. The whole "damned if you do, damned if you don't" notion comes to mind. The undeniable genius behind Marley and his music. Just as the lyrics go "When I analyze the stench, to me it makes a lot of sense", he doesn't seem to condone, yet he tries to explain the difficult choices made by the Buffalo Soldiers.Joe - Washington, Dc
It is an awesome song with Some kind of fire that burns as you think how people could seriously be treated as cows, or less than cows.Angie - Ch Ch, Ak
The song is warm and gives me a warmth in my stomach, especially now that i know what it means.Angie - Ch Ch, Ak
Gen.Colin Powell said it best, "look at the black soldiers called "The Buffalo Soldier" that paved the road that you and I travel now. Be grateful and always remeber their sacrifices". Sir Bob Nesta Marley sang it best. Know your history and were you coming from.Sheridan - Baguio City, Other
You are correct about the a buffalo soldier being a black soldier during the campiagn to open the west for whites to settle. They were soldiers of the ninth and tenth regiments. There were 2,000 in the regiments total. The way you said it makes it sound like that is what the calvary called themselves. They may have or may have not called themselevs that, but the term originated from the indians who referred to the soldiers as "buffalo soldiers" due to their darker skin. They also called them "buffalo soldiers" becuase the Sioux tribe feared buffalo as being great and powerful beings just as they feared the U.S. armyLouis - San Diego, Ca
That's quite interesting, I always wondered what the song was about.Natasha - Chico, Ca
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