Two Sevens Clash
Exodus: Movement of Jah people
Bob Marley recorded Exodus in punk London (he referred to London as his “second home”). He took refuge in the city after having been hit by a bullet the previous year in a politically motivated assassination attempt. The record was released on 3rd June 1977.
The ship Exodus 1947 sailed from the small port of Site near Marseilles on 11th July 1947. On board were 4,515 immigrants from post-war Europe, including 655 children. It was heading to British Mandate Palestine.
As soon as it left French territorial waters British destroyers shadowed it. In the wake of the Second World War, the British had severely restricted immigration to Palestine and eventually decided to stop illegal immigration by sending ships running the gauntlet of the British patrols back to their port of embarkation in Europe. The first ship to which this policy was applied was the Exodus 1947.
We know where we’re going
We know where we’re from
We’re leaving Babylon
We’re going to our Father’s land
On 18th July 1947, nearing the coast of Palestine but outside territorial waters, the British rammed the ship and illegally boarded it. Two immigrants and a member of the crew were killed defending the vessel, bludgeoned to death, and 30 were wounded. The ship was towed to Haifa and the immigrants were deported on prison ships back to France at the suggestion of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin (better known for his role in establishing the NHS).
Men and people will fight you down
The Exodus recording sessions, produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, took place in two west London studios: a converted Victorian laundry at the back of Island’s headquarters in St Peter’s Square, Chiswick, and the Basing Street studio, a former church in Notting Hill.
The nightly recording sessions were attended by a sizable rotating posse including the young members of Aswad and their manager, Mikey Dread (who I saw perform with The Clash at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town); Delroy Washington; and Lucky Gordon (of Profumo Scandal notoriety). Journalist Vivien Goldman remembers the sessions as being recorded “in a mood of exuberant creativity”.
At Port-de-Bouc in southern France the Exodus passengers refused to disembark and remained in the ships’ holds for 24 days during a heatwave – this despite a shortage of food, the overcrowding and dreadful sanitary conditions. The French government refused to co-operate with British attempts at forced disembarkation. Eventually, the British decided to return the would-be immigrants to Germany. These people were mostly survivors of the concentration camps and Nazi German persecution.
So we gonna walk – all right! – through the roads of creation
We the generation
Trod through great tribulation
They were shipped to Hamburg, then forcibly disembarked and transported to two camps near the German port of Lubeck on the Baltic Sea.
World public opinion was outraged by the callousness of the British behaviour and the British were forced to change their policy. Illegal immigrants were no longer sent back to Europe, but instead transported to detention camps in Cyprus.
Open your eyes and look within…
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?
The escorting British soldiers never returned to their units in Palestine. The ordeal had such an impact on them that a near mutiny erupted among them. The British army decided not to press charges and closed the matter quietly.
The events convinced the US government that the British mandate of Palestine was incapable of handling the issue of post-war Jewish refugees and that a United Nations-brokered solution needed to be found. The US government intensified pressure on the British government to return its mandate to the UN.
Throughout the recording sessions, Bob continued writing songs – Exodus itself emerged quite late and, as Vivien Goldman recounts, “there was a fizzing excitement around that track from the moment it was first laid down.”
Many of the musicians were exiles. Beyond their Jamaican roots was the urge to return to Africa, a desire central to Rastafarian belief. Bob and the Twelve Tribes (a Rasta organisation to which he belonged) were actively exploring the possibilities of land made available by Haile Selassie in Shashamane, Ethiopia.
Goldman recalls: “When the night came to finish the Exodus track, the Basing Street studio was alive with excitement. From the start, the song had its own impetus … at four o’clock in the morning a moment hit when the whole room knew that this one was it.”
Within a year, over half of the original Exodus 1947 passengers had made another attempt at emigrating to Palestine – most found themselves detained in camps in Cyprus. One witness describes the DP (Displaced Persons) Camps on Cyprus thus: “a hot hell of desert sand and wind blowing against tents and tin Nissen huts, a hell circumscribed by two walls of barbed wire whose architecture had come out of Dachau and Treblinka”.
Eventually, after the events around May 1948, the majority of the Exodus exiles made it back to Israel.
Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!