Like most successful Jamaican groups, The Wailers recorded far more material than was released in their lifetime. Unlike most, however, the band didn't have to wait long for their music to begin flooding out of the archives. In 1983, two years after Bob Marley's death, Island dug up a pair of Jamaican only singles, and a batch of out-takes and demos which were cleaned up and completed. Thus was born the Confrontation album, and within it "Buffalo Soldier".
The number had initially been recorded with Lee Perry in early 1978, with the Meditations providing backing vocals, before release, their harmonies were replaced by Rita Marley and Junior Tucker's.
Overhead, Marley tells the history of the buffalo soldiers, Black men enlisted in the US army and sent to fight Native
Americans. The Wailer suggests they had no choice, and were forced to fight for survival. In fact, they were all volunteers, although their career choices were severely limited in this period, and enlistment brought food, clothing, a decent wage, and distance from their former lives. Joining up opened a whole new world of opportunities and possibilities... albeit at the expense of a fellow minority.
Little was known about this force in Marley's day, so he turns the buffalo soldiers into an icon of Black oppression, then empowers them as dread heroes. Nice image, but little to do with reality, however, this song inspired much interest and research into the previously ignored contribution of Black soldiers in the building of America. "Buffalo Soldier" was a huge hit both at home and in many other parts of the world, in the UK it fought its way to Number Four in the charts.