Ukulele Video Lesson - Buffalo Soldier

This ukulele video lesson covers Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley. Buffalo Soldier was recorded in 1980, but was not released until after Marley himself had died, on an album released in 1983. The song is one of the artist’s signature pieces. It’s notable for its cheery rhythm and melody, but tells a very dark tale at the same time.



Reggae Rhythm

Buffalo Soldier is classic reggae, from the upbeat sounding rhythm, the muted guitar and the very catchy drum line on down. The song, however, uses relatively few chords. The secret to playing the song effectively is in capturing the essence of the rhythm.

Buffalo Soldier makes use of common chords—A, D, C#m, Bm7— for the most part, but the way reggae is performed, the player will be challenged to structure their rhythm in a different way than they may be used to. In reggae songs, it’s common for the guitar – whose line the ukulele will be closely mirroring – to play on the offbeat of the rhythm.

If you imagine the rhythm of the song being made up completely of quarter notes, one way of playing on the offbeat would be to split those quarter notes into eighth note pairs and to emphasize the second of the eighth notes, or the “and” as they are represented when counting rhythm vocally.

Despite the high energy of the song, the instruments are really quite subtle for a great deal of it, keeping down the rhythm and providing a great foundation for Marley to sing over. The song is also interspersed with blasts from a horn section, which introduce some of the more singable portions of the piece.

There are many covers of Buffalo Soldier, so you might want to explore a bit and see what other people have done with the song. This song has an infectious groove to it, but, once you look at the lyrical content, you’ll see that it also has a lot more substance than the average pop song and that may affect how you want to interpret it.

The History Behind The Meaning Of This Ukulele Video Lesson - Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier tells the story of the men once called by that name; Slaves from Africa who were pressed into service in the US and fought in the Indian Wars during the era when the United States was expanding westward. Some of the soldiers came from slavery and, as the song tells, some of them ended up migrating to other parts of the Americas, including the Caribbean. This song was co-written by Noel G Williams.

The song, among the story, intersperses some joyous sounding elements, particularly the very well known “Yoi! Yoi! Yoi!” lines, some of the catchiest hooks in the entire piece. Like much of Bob Marley’s music and reggae in general, this song has the kind of beat and melody that tends to make people want to casually and happily sing-along, but there is a great deal to explore within it lyrically.

This is one of Bob Marley’s final songs. It originally appeared on an album called Confrontation, released in 1983. Many listeners might be more familiar with it from the album Legend, released in 1984 and a consistently best-selling album over the years.

Unfortunately, Bob Marley was gone by 1981, only 36 years old but already a legendary reggae performer. He is still practically synonymous with the reggae genre and his influence is apparent in the work of many other bands that have come along since his heyday. He died of melanoma, a particularly deadly form of cancer, in Miami Florida.

True to the messages that he conveyed in his music, Ziggy Marley, one of the artists sons, said Bob’s last words to him were “Money can't buy life”.

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