Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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Redemption Song – Bob Marley

Bob Marley was a huge part of bringing reggae music into a wider public consciousness. Whilst some may think that his was a somewhat watered down version that was deliberately aimed at crossing over to a white rock audience, there is no doubt that his music has had a profound affect around the world. And none more so than Redemption Song.


Whilst clearly not a reggae song in itself, Redemption Song is the epitome of all that Marley sought to achieve in his music. The final track on the final album Marley released before his death from cancer in 1980 (Uprising), the song is in many ways Marley’s own eulogy, a song of hope despite the pain of the circumstances. But rather than focusing inwards on his own pain, the song turns that feeling into a universal call for the downtrodden, the oppressed, those who have lost so much, urging them to keep on, to keep singing these “songs of freedom”. The famous “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, “none but ourselves can free our mind” lines were in fact inspired by a speech by Marcus Garvey, a proponent of Black nationalism in Jamaica who was considered a religious prophet within Rastafarianism, a religion strongly linked to reggae and Marley.

Whilst the song was recorded and performed as a full band version (you can here it here), it is most famous in its most stripped back form – just Marley and an acoustic guitar. Which I think makes it a great candidate for playing on the uke.

The prompting for putting this song on UkeTunes came from hearing over Christmas a bit of the Radio 4 Soul Music documentary that focused on this song, and the impact it is had on a variety of people. It’s an informative and touching listen, and at the time of writing is still on the BBC IPlayer – you can listen to it here.

The song sheet is quite straightforward to play – no tricky chords or strumming patterns. That said, Marley’s phrasing is sometimes a little tricky to replicate, but don’t worry too much about that – this is a song to take and mould to your own experience. Also this is definitely a less-is-more song, so keeping the strumming sparse helps. I’ve also included tab for the opening guitar riff as well. Enjoy!


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Let Your Yeah Be Yeah – The Pioneers


So reggae took me a long time to get. Yes, I’ve had a copy of Bob Marley’s Legend for ever, and occassionaly the odd reggae song broke through as a pop hit. But that’s as far as it went. Then a few years ago, having got a little bored with a whole host of my usual musical tastes, I made a concerted effort to “get” into reggae. Spotify, and a bunch of days spent working alone at home, was my saviour. And with a bit of effort it all finally clicked.

One thing I like about reggae is the rawness of sound and attitude, something that – for all it’s wonderfulness – was a little lost in the music of Bob Marley. There’s a real punk spirit to a lot of reggae, that pre-dates the punk revolution of 1976/7, born in part from an outsider attitude and an anti-establishment mind-set. Interestingly, though, there was a real affinity for those original punks with reggae. DJs like Don Letts often played reggae between sets at punk gigs, and that cross-fertalisation spread into the music of some of the punk bands (The Clash’s cover of Police and Thieves being an obvious example). And then there was the whole Two-Tone movement, a blissful amalgam of punk and ska (a more up-beat version of reggae). There’s a good article here on the links between the punk and reggae.

The Pioneers were a vocal trio from Jamaica, formed in the early 60s, and were amongst the first wave of reggae bands to score international (i.e. UK!) success in the late 60s and early 70s. Their first hit was with Long Shot Kick De Bucket (later covered by The Specials), but Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song, was their biggest hit, peaking at #5 in the UK singles charts in 1971.

[As an aside, I can highly recommend the following compilations if you want to move beyond the obvious into the treasures of reggae; Scratchy Sounds (Ska, Dub, Roots & Reggae nuggets), and Tighten Up! Trojan Reggae Classics (although admitidily not at the prices Amazon seem to be selling them for!).]

And so to the song sheet. A few words of explanation I think are required for this one. Firstly the chords. I originally did a version of the song in an easier key (G). But I subsequently realised that playing it in the original key works much better. Putting aside that I find it easier to sing in that key (Bb), having to use barre chords really helps to get the reggae feel for the song – it means that you can get the choppy rhythms much better because you can dampen all the strings when you need to. So the chord diagrams in the sheet represent the barre-chords that I think work best with this.

Secondly, there is the rhythm. I’m not going to give a lesson on how to play reggae here. Suffice to say that your best bet is to listen to the song, and get the feel from that. Basically I play it as a d-u-d-u rhythm all the way through, BUT with the first of those beats (the first down beat) dampened – i.e. with the fingers forming the chord shape on the strings, but not actually pressing down on the fret, AND the last down beat being clipped (i.e. the fingers lifting off the frets – but staying on the strings – almost as soon as the stroke has been completed). Listen to the song and have a play around and you’ll get the hang it.