Bob Marley was more than just a musician; he was a messenger of love, peace, and justice. While the legend has transcended from this life, he left behind a legacy that, in turn, transcends all generations.
In the early 70’s, Marley was in Jamaica, feeling restless. Feeling the need to run, like a common criminal from the life he was leading to continue living the life he loved. That if he were to stay put, that he would be caged like a lion in the land that promised freedom. It seemed like the leaders of the promised land wanted to be stars and needed to create a war among the people. From this, the song “Iron Lion Zion” was born.
The lyrics profess Marley’s commitment to his Rastafarian beliefs and message of anti-violence. Iron is said to represent strength. Lion refers to the Lion of Judah, which represents Halie Selassie I, the emperor of Ethiopia, that the Rastas believe to be their Messiah. And finally, Zion stands as a representation of Ethiopia; the promised land.
While the song ‘Iron Lion Zion’ was penned in the early 1970’s, it was never officially recorded as a single. The first known recording dates back to April of 1973 at Harry J’s studio, where Bob Marley and The Wailers recorded much of their music. It wasn’t until 10 years after Bob’s passing that the recording was even found. Island Record’s Trevor Wyatt stumbled upon it while he was casually listening to a rehearsal tape when this hidden gem appeared. It was clear from the original recording that the group was still working on the track. And that it was not yet ready for the likes of the Natty Dread album that it was most likely intended for.
Wyatt, along with Island Records engineer, Ingmar Kiang re-mixed the song smoothly and brilliantly. They accomplished this with the original Jamaican sound, including the incredible sax playing by jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine. Vocals from the I-Threes were added, and the song was released in 1992 as a part of the Songs of Freedom box set.
The recently released EP shares 5 amazing mixes of the iconic song. Like the initially released EP, this also includes the B side track of ‘Smile Jamaica.’
Jamaica need to smile, because in Jamaica everybody vex too much Bob Marley
“Smile Jamaica” was written in 1976 to his fellow countrymen, acknowledging their plight, encouraging them to smile and see the brighter side of life. To come together as a community, let go of their fears and smile. This song ultimately became the title of the historic concert where Bob and the I-Three’s performed after a brutal attempt was made on their lives. The concert also marked a movement towards peace and unity between party leaders Michael Manley and Chris Blackwell.
However, after the Smile Jamaica concert, Bob must have still deeply felt the lyrics he wrote in “Iron Lion Zion.” Shortly after, he left Jamaica in a self-imposed exile living the remainder of his years in Bermuda, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
“It name Smile Jamaica and it deal with what’s happening now – what should be happening now. Trench Town have to change. Long time, plenty people grown up there and it have fi change … the political thing. But me never see myself, I never really call myself, political. Me only want to talk about the truth.”
You can see by the discovery of “Iron Zion Lion,” back in 1992, how the legacy and message of the great Bob Marley continues. His words couldn’t be more relevant today. And it sure makes me hope that there might be a few more hidden gems out there.
For more information on the life and legacy of Bob Marley, be sure to check out my previous articles! And, stay tuned for my review of Episode 2 of the YouTube docu-series Bob Marley – Legacy: 75 Years a Legend.
Don’t miss out on your chance for exclusive 75th Anniversary Iron Lion Zion merchandise!
“In this great future, you can’t forget your past”
I had to run like a fugitive just to save the life I live | Bob Marley