This was Marley's last single before his death on May 11, 1981. It sums up his life and what he stood for in his songs: freedom and redemption. Marley was a very spiritual singer who gave hope to the downtrodden in his native Jamaica, and whose message spread to the United States and around the world when he became a star.
Marley completed the Uprising album (his last) in the summer of 1980. He was suffering from the cancer that would eventually kill him at age 36, but was very productive in his later years. He refused traditional medicine because of his Rastafarian beliefs and chose to make music and perform as long as he could.
This song drew from the works of the civil-rights campaigner Marcus Garvey, who in a 1937 speech said:
"We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind."
This can be heard in Marley's lyric:
Emancipate yourself from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Garvey's 1923 book The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey contains this preface, which is likely where Marley got the idea for "Redemption," which he used in the title:
"Dedicated to the true and loyal members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the cause of African redemption."
This is much more of a folk song than a reggae number. Very unusual for Marley, it is just his voice accompanied by his acoustic guitar. Marley first recorded it with his group The Wailers, but his producer Chris Blackwell suggested he try a solo acoustic version, and that's what stuck.
Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer both covered this song.
Bertrand - Paris, France
This plays over the credits for the 2007 movie I Am Legend starring Will Smith. It was also sung by the character Sawyer in the season finale of the first season of the show Lost on ABC.
Barbadian singer Rihanna covered this for the Haiti Relief Fund after the earthquake that devastated the country. Urging fans to download the track she said: "This song for me, growing up, anytime there was a difficult situation, I always listened to this song because it was so liberating. Even now I listen to it when my back is up against the wall. I feel like the people of Haiti need to hear something inspiring."
Rihanna performed an acoustic version live on the Oprah Winfrey Show on January 20, 2010.
French artists Octave Marsal and Theo De Gueltzl created an animated video for the song using 2,747 original drawings. Their black-and-white clip was released on February 6, 2020, on what would have been Bob Marley's 75th birthday.
"From the history of Slavery and Jamaica, Rastafarian culture, legacy of prophets (Haile Selassie the 1st, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X), as well as Bob's personal life, we take the audience on a journey through allegories and representations," Marsal and De Gueltzl explained of the visual.