Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” Lyrics Meaning

The late Bob Marley was of course a true reggae artist who spoke exclusively in Jamaican patois. So at times lyrics would have to be slightly altered in the name of making them understandable to Western audiences. One such case is “No Woman, No Cry”. Or let’s say that the title of the track, translated into proper English, would be “woman, don’t cry”. And possessing such knowledge beforehand makes it a lot easier to understand the sentiment being relayed. In other words, this tune is meant to serve primarily as encouragement towards women who are going through hardship. And with Jamaica being a Third World nation and the singer himself coming from a challenging background, Jah Bob had witnessed his own fair share of poverty while growing up.

Nostalgic Lyrics

Indeed being the musical genius that he was, he doesn’t take a direct approach to the task at hand by actually focusing on women in the verses. Rather the lyrics are largely nostalgic in nature, representing his own struggles and observations while growing up in Trench Town, one of the poorest communities in Jamaica. And Marley acknowledges that his lifestyle has changed drastically since those days. However, he also realizes that “you can’t forget your past”, i.e. where you came from. 

Indeed all things considered, “this bright future” which he speaks of isn’t only in regards to himself. Rather in reaching back to his past, he is actually acknowledging the women of Trench Town, those who are still there, caught up in the struggle. And as illustrated in the bridge, he feels that they also possess a “bright future”.

Lyrics that seek to Encourage Women

Indeed in once again going back to the title, the primary sentiment being relayed is one of encouragement. Jah Bob wants the intended addressees, whom we can conclude are women in economically-troubling circumstances in general, to know that at the end of the day “everything’s going to be alright”. 

Indeed the lyrics are imbued with what can be classified as a genuine-loving feeling. No, Bob Marley may not know the women he is addressing, even those who derive inspiration from this song to this day, personally. But he does use his own past selfless lifestyle in a poor community to get a concerned, loving sentiment across nonetheless. In other words, this isn’t a case of an artist from a privileged background – or even a privilege country – making sort of a general, unattached statement against poverty. To the contrary, as revealed in the lyrics, poverty is something which the singer has dealt with, quite intimately, firsthand. And just as now said hardships serve as memories of days gone, he is also confident that the addressee will one day be able to look back on her own hardships while concurrently experiencing a ‘brighter’ day.

Conclusion

And conclusively we can say that Bob Marley’s genuine concern for those he is singing to is further manifest by the fact that he actually addressed this song particularly to women. It is somewhat reminiscent of Tupac’s 1995 effort, “Dear Mama“. No one will walk away from listening to the live version of “No Woman, No Cry” and think that Jah Bob is simply putting on a show, jumping on a bandwagon or trying to make a quick buck. 

Rather he was an internationally-known music star who was not only concerned for womankind but also used his voice and talents to highlight their sufferings. For all lyrics considered, we can say that the thesis sentiment being relayed is that whereas every impoverished person has it hard, women in particular have to endure an especially-trying time under such circumstances.

Lyrics of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry"

Music Video

An official music video to this song did not come out ’til mid-2020. At the time Bob Marley’s estate were celebrating what would have been his 75th birthday and released this clip onto the late artist’s official YouTube channel. The video had Kristian Mercado Figueroa as its director and was filmed in both New York City and Jamaica.

Writing Credits for “No Woman, No Cry”

The credited writers of this song are the late Bob Marley (1945-1981) as well as a semi-regular collaborator and very close friend of his named Vincent “Tartar” Ford (1940-2008). As the story goes Tartar may have had little, if anything, to do with the actual composition of “No Woman No Cry”. However, Bob still gave him credit in the name of making sure his buddy received royalty checks from the song into the future. 

In fact Vincent Ford was a cripple who maintained a soup kitchen in Trench Town. And it was he who fed Marley in his youth when Bob didn’t have anything to eat. This was way before Marley’s rise to stardom. So it can be said that the second verse of this song was largely inspired by Marley’s relationship with Tartar. But even beyond that, Jah Bob had a tendency to attribute songwriter credit to friends and family, as is this case, in the name of stiffing Cayman Music, who was once his publisher.

The royal payments that Ford got from the song enabled him to keep on running his soup kitchen until his death in 2008.

Production

Bob Marley & The Wailers are acknowledged as this track’s producers. They handled the production alongside Steve Smith and Island Records’ founder, Chris Blackwell.

Release Date of “No Woman, No Cry”

The public first heard the song through the 1974 studio album Natty Dread from Bob Marley and the Wailers. And it was released by Island Records, which served as a distributor for Bob Marley’s own label, Tuff Gong.

The version of this song which people are more familiar with is actually a live rendition which was on another Bob Marley & the Wailers album, Live!, which came out in 1975.  That particular version was recorded in London’s Lyceum Theatre during Jah Bob’s Natty Dread Tour. And it went on to become a true classic, making it all the way up to number 37 on Rolling Stone’s 2011 ranking of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Chart Performance

The best chart showing this song ever achieved was peaking at number eight on the UK Singles Chart in 1981 (in the aftermath of Bob Marley’s passing).  And it has also been certified gold in the United Kingdom.

No Woman No Cry is also acknowledged as being Bob Marley and The Wailers, a group that has since become music legends, first big hit.

Covers of “No Woman, No Cry”

“No Woman, No Cry” is a true Bob Marley classic that has been covered by the likes of Nina Simone and Boney M. But one of the most-successful renditions came out via The Fugees in 1996. It featured Wyclef Jean as the lead vocalist and was a single from the band’s breakthrough album, The Score. And that rendition topped the UK R&B Chart in addition to charting in nearly 20 nations overall. And Clef went on to also drop a remix of the tune in 2003 featuring one of Bob Marley’s own sons, Stephen Marley.

Inspiration for Rita Marley’s Book

In 2004 Bob Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, came out with an autobiography entitled “No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley”, as inspired by the song.

More Interesting Facts about “No Woman, No Cry”

By the time No Woman No Cry had come out, two members of the Wailers who went on to become famous musicians in their own right, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh (1944-1987), had already left the band. However, it did feature Marley’s traditional female backup singers the I-Threes, which not only consisted of his wife Rita but also vocalists Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths.

The latter two have also established their own names in the music industry. And for the record, it was Marcia Griffiths and Bunny Wailer who came out with the song “Electric Boogie” in 1983, which would eventually go on to serve as the official tune behind the ultra-popular Electric Slide line dance.

“No Woman No Cry” served as rhythmic inspiration behind a song The Police dropped in 1978 entitled “So Lonely”.

The original version of this song, as presented on Natty Dread, is under four minutes long. But the conventional (i.e. non-single) Live! version exceeds seven minutes in length.

Summary

This classic hit is one of the most famous reggae songs ever written. The song, which has a theme of hope in its powerful lyrics, talks about growing up in the slum or ghetto and watching the struggles that a woman goes through. Throughout the song, Marley assures her that everything is going to be alright, and she should therefore not cry. This is where the song’s title “No Woman, No Cry” comes from. So all in all, the song gives hope and assurance to women amidst the harsh realities of life.

12 Responses

  1. And there’s me always thinking he meant that you don’t cry when your a single fox.
    Anyway, that’s the advice I took and when I look around at so many bored men who have one, I see it was great advice!

  2. Zawi says:

    I see it as no woman in your life no need to cry …!

  3. Rose Bredahl says:

    Q: Did the original lyrics to ‘No Woman No Cry’ include “my feet” before Marley’s post amputation-refusal (still wanted Soccer) toe/foot melanoma treatment . How about the lyrics: “So I Have To Push On Through”?
    I’m curious because even small changes like “our” or “your” feet Vs “my” feet, and “we” or “you” Vs “I” must push on through, would add a reason for his advice women (esp those close to him).

  4. Moses Mathebula says:

    no woman no cry simply means no woman don’t cry

  5. nkaa egwu says:

    i was thinking the song means no cry where there’s no woman until recently…, it simply No, woman don’t cry

  6. Dominick R. says:

    I was lead to believe, by a Jamaican in St Annes Bay (where I was at the time) Marley had a diagnosis of cancer and when he told Rita she broke down in tears….the song now has even stronger depth to it…..I know he was not officially diagnosed till 84 is and the song is 74…but maybe he got an earlier diagnosis that they kept to each other. All I know is that before I knew this story the song was a great song but now it is a song that always makes me cry.

  7. Dominick R. says:

    I just commented with the dates all about face….pardon me….but the story I told is interesting even if the dates are incorrect.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Can somebody please help me
    I have an project to do on this song where I have to do the analysis. I have to analyse the Melody, Harmony and Form, Rhythm, Tempo and Text and I dont know anything, please help me…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Its about the struggle that women face, just as Tupac’s keep your head up. That is it period.

    • SMF says:

      You are absolutely right! There is a myriad of struggles we, women face on a daily basis, both in our personal and professional lives. For starters, sexism and inequality. The debate over women’s reproductive rights, too, has been a recent hot topic. Other struggles include domestic abuse, gender pay gap, access to education, child marriage and female genital mutilation. And on top of that, we are constantly under the spotlight for the choices we make, especially if it’s between motherhood and career.

      As a woman, I agree that there are certain jobs that are done better by males as compared to females, such as construction, electrical and other hard labour jobs. No doubt the gap between women filling up leadership roles then and now are closing, but many of us still seem to receive the shorter end of the stick when it comes to a promotion between them and a male counterpart.

      Don’t get me started on how society reacts to the choices we make, especially when it comes to choosing between starting a family or climbing the career ladder. Sure, women were naturally made to provide offspring and take care of their family but the struggle to choose is so much more harder now than ever. The age we are more likely to rise up our career ladders is also the age we are biologically “ripe” to have a baby.

      So, in the end, we just have to be our own superheroes and trust our instincts, and make the world a better place.

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