In Patois, the local dialect of Jamaican English, “no woman no cry” means “No, woman don’t cry.” At the time, he was dying of brain cancer. Rita Marley, his wife, had many reasons to grieve his coming death, and to fear the complexities of the future (having your husband make a lot of money suddenly and being a political force in a Third World country can do that). This tenderest of all Reggae songs reminded her that even without wealth, they were once happy, he looked forward to the afterlife, and politically and economically, the Rasta people’s status could not help but improve. Reading the phrase as red-pill fodder is as absurd as thinking that the “Auntie Mame” (note the spelling) franchise is a series of slasher films. It’s a beautiful song and the versions on “Natty Dread” and on “Legend”and are both great. The “Natty Dread” version is faster in tempo and a studio recording. The very widely heard slower version on “Live!” and on “Legend” is from a 1975 concert at the Lyceum in London. Stretching out the tempo a helps the emotions of the song (and the lyrical content) sink in deeper …and the live version really brings home the positive energy that Bob Marley’s concerts must have brought to the audiences in attendance.
In Jamaica the dialect spoken is known as patois. While it is technically a dialect of English, it is very different in spoken form than the language spoken by English speakers in any region outside of the Caribbean. However, most if not all Jamaican people understand and are able to speak English as it is spoken in other areas such as the US and the UK. Many Jamaican singers choose to sing in this more common dialect of English, but certain elements of patois often trickle into the lyrics. Examples of this occurrence are abundant in Bob Marley’s music. Examples include the line “Me no know how we and dem ever work dis out.” This basically translates to “I don’t know how we’ll ever work this out with them.” While this translation may seem quite obvious, it is important to note in light of the original question that the word “no” here is used to mean “don’t.” This is not to say that “no” in patois always translates to “don’t.” At least as often it has the same meaning it does in standard British or American English. Hence, when Bob sings “No woman, no cry,” the phrase is the equivalent of “No (my) woman, don’t cry.” This interpretation is supported by the repeated affirmation in the song’s refrain “Everything’s gonna be alright.”