Jamaican English with Bob Marley

“One good thing about music, when it hits you(te bate), you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

What do you feel when music HITS you? Bob Marley was one of the most influential musicians ever and his legacy has proven to be timeless. Marley’s reggae music has been adapted into many different cultures, especially here in Brazil, with such musicians such as Gilberto Gill, Edson Gomes and numerous other reggae bands from all around the country. The 11th of May, the day Bob Marley died, is the national reggae day in Brazil.

leia este texto em português | RLE International Community

Explore and listen to last fm here for a more extensive list of Brazilian reggae.

Real Life English
believe that language and culture can be learnt through music, and there’s no better international icon than Bob Marley. Today we’re going to explore Jamaican English, its Rastafarian roots, and take a look at the vocabulary and true meaning of Bob Marley’s song “Buffalo Soldier.”

Jamaican English

In Jamaica there are many historical aspects that have influenced their English. Being a British colonized country, Jamaican English is based on British English, but has a lot of American influence due to its proximity and influences in the media. Another unique thing about the language is that it’s spoken with a different intonation, which is very similar to Irish English. When it comes to grammar and spelling learnt in schools, British grammar is most prominent throughout Jamaica. Besides these influences that have formed this unique Jamaican pronunciation, there are also a few other cultural aspects that add a lot to the vocabulary. Take a look at this Jamaican comedian and see how he uses his Jamaican accent to trick people.

Rastafarianism is a Jamaican religion which started in the 1930’s and has been growing throughout the world ever since. The “Rastas”(short for Rastafarian) are well known for their use of Marijuana, also known as “ganja,” during their spiritual ceremonies. Rastas do not accept western culture and believe we should all return to Africa (Zion) as it is the true birthplace of mankind. Because Rastafarianism is so strong in Jamaica, there are also a lot of colloquial expressions to go with it, let’s take a look.

Common “Rasta” words:
Zion– This is the holy land talked about the Rastas, which is in Ethiopia
–  A Rasta word for the police and the corrupt system, the western world
 – Means everything is alright. Expression of feeling great and cool
Ca, cah – Because.
Cool Runnings
 – usually used at a time of departure on a long journey, meaning have a safe trip.
Dey (dayah)- They; there, as in to be or exist. “Dey nuh odda way.” (There is no other way) “Nuh milk nuh dey.” (There is no milk there) “Dey say.” (They say)
Dread – Person who has dreadlocks, greeting to friend, expression of a good idea.
Gweh – Go away.
I an I – Rasta speech for me, myself, and I.
Jah – Rastafarian God, mentioned a lot in Bob Marley’s music.
Jammin’ – To be having a good time, or to play music with friends.
Jamaican Patois

Although English is the official language of Jamaica, the Jamaican Patois (pronounced Paatwaa) is used in more informal situations, amongst friends and colleagues. This language is nearly impossible for me to understand, even though some of the words are English. It also has vocabulary from Western African countries, Portuguese, Spanish and even Hindi. Patois is seen as a totally different language amongst Jamaicans.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer/songwriter whose music has influenced the world politically, socially and spiritually. Marley was living in a slum in Kingston called Trench Town in the 60’s when he started the band, “the Wailers,” with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston. Even today, Marley’s music is celebrated around the world and still used to represent social change and political protest. Marley was often criticized for his use of marijuana and religious beliefs (Rastafarianism), but his message and his fight was for peace, love and equality.

We all love Marley’s songs for their peaceful and chilled-out (relaxed) vibe, but most people are unaware of what he is actually singing about. In many of his songs he sings about the oppression of Africans, but this is done in a somewhat subtle way. Unless you’re familiar with the expressions used, it can be quite difficult to understand. Let’s take, for instance one of his greats, Buffalo Soldier. A “Buffalo soldier” was a name given to African American soldiers who fought during the Native American conflicts in 1866. This name was given because of their skin color, strength and their hair reminded them of a buffalo.

Let’s take a look at the clip, you can scroll down to see the lyrics as we sing along.
[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMUQMSXLlHM” width=”600″ height=”400″]

Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta There was a Buffalo Soldier
In the heart of America
Stolen from Africa, brought to America
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival 

In the chorus they make a reference to how the Africans were taken (stolen) from Africa, and when they arrived in the U.S.A they were forced to fight the native americans.

I mean it, when I analyze the stench
To me it makes a lot of sense
How the dreadlock rasta was the buffalo soldier,
And he was taken from africa, brought to america,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival. 

*Stench= A very strong bad smell
In this verse Marley is making a reference to how the modern day Rastas are decedents of the Buffalo soldiers, fighting for their values.

If you know your history,
Then you would know where you coming from,
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me,
Who the ‘eck do I think I am.    
Who the heck- Quem, inferno, eu estou pensando que sou?

Bob is singing about how history is taught inaccurately, and people are unaware of the buffalo soldiers and other aspects of African heritage.

Chorus again followed by many yo yo yo’s

Said he was a Buffalo Soldier
Win the war for America
Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival
Driven from the mainland  –  Levado do continente
To the heart of the Caribbean

This line “win the war for America” is a very strong and powerful amongst Rastafarians. Marley is making a reference to how African Americans fought in wars and helped build the U.S. for what it is today.

Troddin’ through san juan in the arms of america
Troddin’ through jamaica, a buffalo soldier
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival:
Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta. 

San Juan was a pathway from the U.S.A. to Jamaica. Troddin’ (trodding), would be like saying walking through.

So, there you have it. In just one of the hundreds of songs written by Bob Marley, we’re given some insight to Rastafarian culture, we’ve picked up some new vocabulary, and learnt about Jamaican pronunciation.

My Question for you Real Life English, what is your favorite Bob Marley song, and how do you feel when the music hits you? Please feel free to comment this on our Real Life English International facebook community.

Jah Bless.

Return from Jamaican English with Bob Marley to Learn English with Music 

  • James Galvis says:

    One love …

  • Source says:

    Fantastic Web-site, Maintain the wonderful work. Thank you so much!