“Everyone is crying out for peace, Yes! None is crying out for justice
Everyone is crying out for peace, Yes! None is crying out for justice
I don’t want no peace. I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice. I need equal rights and justice
Got to get it. Equal rights and justice.”
I still remember that Friday night, September 11, 1987 when Radio Jamaica (RJR) interrupted their regular programming with breaking news. I was a teenager at the time. The announcer came on and within a few seconds the nation was plunged into grief upon hearing that internationally acclaimed Reggae superstar, Winston “Peter Tosh” McIntosh was murdered in his St. Andrew home. Immediately, Tosh’s music began to play on radio almost non-stop as the nation tried to come to grips with the fact that this musical genius, son of Westmoreland, had met an untimely death. The media landscape was not as diverse then as it is now. There was no social media as we now have. Yes, there was a time before Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, however, news of Tosh’s death spread like wild fire and the impact and vacuum which followed soon thereafter was felt not only in Jamaica but on the international scene. More than thirty years have passed since the death of reggae icon Peter Tosh. The perception that people have of Tosh differs according to their social class, gender, educational and religious indicators. There are those who view Tosh as a champion of human rights. For others Tosh was a visionary and advocate, especially with his call surrounding the legalization of marijuana. In 1976 Tosh released his debut album as a solo artist, “Legalize It”. The title track “Legalize It” was banned by the government for supporting calls for the legislation of ganja. The world was a much different place then. Jamaica has made advancements notwithstanding calls from various ganja lobby groups, since Tosh’s call to” free up di weed”. “Legalize it, don’t criticize it. Legalize it, yeah ah and I will advertise it”. The ‘Bush Doctor’ certainly did not mince his words.
In 2015 Jamaica decriminalized marijuana of two ounces or less and this unquestionably has paved the path for the medical cannabis industry. We must not forget that Peter was a Rastafarian first and foremost, and that the smoking of ganja is part of their religious belief. Tosh’s highly acclaimed album “Equal Rights” was released in 1977. This album was militant and carried a political currency in keeping this reggae artist’s strong convictions of world view.
Was Peter Tosh anti-institution? “Vampire” released on his Reggae Grammy winning album, “No Nuclear Weapon” perhaps gives us some idea of the man and how his thoughts were influenced by the socio-political, economic and cultural happenings of the time in answering this perennial question. The song clearly speaks to the injustices and barriers that young people face whether by policies of the government or agents of the State. “You don’t like to see youths prosper, Only like to see youths suffer
Unnu set of vampire, Unnu old vampire
Only trod upon creation, With your bloodly meditation
Unnu set of vampire”
Tosh’s use of metaphor and imagery go far way in explaining and bringing to life the essence of the social injustices that so many of our youths, then and now, experience almost on a daily basis. Obviously, while there are not real vampires, or so we are led to believe, there are systems in place in the society which oftentimes drain the energy in an increasingly frustrating way to retard the progress of disadvantaged and unattached youths. With only forty two years, Tosh with his rich penetrating voice managed to develop a successful and indeed colourful career.
“So we all go ketchy- ketchy, shuby shuby tonight
All night long we a go ketchy-ketchy, shuby- shuby tonight.”
My dad, Fitzroy informed me that Ketchyp-Shuby is a cricket game which is usually played in rural Jamaica. The rules of the game are rather simple. The person batting (batsman) would hit the ball bowled to him into the air and the person who catches the ball would get the chance to bat. My dad pointed out that only boys played Ketchup-Shuby. Was Tosh engaged in language and word deconstruction with the lyrics of his song?
It bears thought that poetic justice was on display recently when the University of the West Indies, on October 19, 2018, hosted a symposium for Tosh who many view as a rebel. The Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work and the Peter Tosh Estate presented the annual Peter Tosh Symposium under the theme: Peter Tosh: Bush Doctor and Musical Prophet”. Among the presenters were Dr. Omar Davies, former Finance Minister who opined that one of the outstanding features about Tosh was that he took serious social issues and gave incisive commentary and packaged it for a popular music medium. Dr. Davies who described himself as a fan of Tosh’s music said that “Equal Rights is one of the finest albums ever.
Dr. Michael Barnett, from the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work in his opening remarks said, Peter Tosh’s message was sharp, bitter for some people, but necessary. He added that Tosh did not get the same respect as Bob Marley. Tosh was a founding member of The Wailers group, along with Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley. There are always going to be comparison between Tosh and Marley. As the evening’s presentation went on one could smell the potent scent of marijuana and jerk chicken especially if one sat at the back of the Inter-Faculty Lecture Theatre (IFLT).
Dr. Dennis Howard in his presentation entitled: “Warm, Happy, Political Male Vocal: The Many Voices of Peter Tosh” spoke of multiple perspectives of the reggae artiste and legend. According to Dr. Howard, Tosh was influenced by a plethora of genres and influences in the United States and Britain. He stated that Tosh is often portrayed as political and militant. Dr. Howard highlighted Chuck Berry among others who influenced Tosh’s music. The gathering was reminded by Dr. Howard that Tosh did a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Goode”. How many of you have listened to both versions? Tosh certainly was good and gave justice to this timeless classic in his remake. The song begins, “Deep down in Jamaica close to Mandeville,
Back up in the woods onto of a hill.
There stood an old hut made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
He never learned to read and write so well.
But he could play his guitar like ringing a bell yell.”
If truth be told we all know of a Johnny. This song speaks to the reality of so many of our students and still is very much relevant today as it was when Tosh recorded it.
Felton, a colleague said, “his message was about equal rights and justice for all. It was clear and straight forward, black consciousness. He was also an advocate for freeing up the weed and said as much in some of his songs.” Felton concluded that Tosh’s message was uncompromising even when he was beaten and locked up. Another colleague Shernette, said Peter sang what was in his heart and never just what people wanted to hear. My parents Fitzroy and Vinette had a firsthand account of Peter Tosh in his early career. They lived beside Peter on Solitaire Road in Cockburn Pen in the early 1970’s and both reflected briefly on the Peter they knew. My dad, Fitzroy operated a garage and almost everyone in the community knew of Campbell’s Garage. Peter, was dark skinned, tall and energetic. According to my dad, Peter was friendly and engaging and would often be found around the garage talking to just about everyone who would give a listening ear about his music. My dad recalled that Peter drove a Ford Anglia motorcar in those days. As a mechanic my dad repaired Peter’s Ford car as the needs arose. Mom remembered Peter as sociable. She added that Peter was stylish, well spoken and always had his trademark guitar. My childhood friend Omar referred to Cockburn Pen as the musical capital of Jamaica.
There was a time in our history when reggae music was not thought of highly. Lest we forget there was a point in time in Jamaica where reggae music was not as warmly received by the “browning” upper echelons of society. The music was referred to as ‘devil music’ as my colleague Ingrid pointed out. The society has always had an issue with colourism and for some reason/s we are still trapped in this socio-cultural prison. It is within that same time period that Rastafarians had a challenging time to express their beliefs and gain acceptance by the system. Tosh despite benefiting from male privilege was disadvantaged, first by him being a Rastafarian and secondly, by the colour of his skin. Tosh was unapologetic in his advocacy in taking on social issues of the time. Peter recorded a number of love songs. Dr. Imani Tafari- Ama, junior research fellow at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, Mona Campus, who knew Tosh made reference to “Nothing but Love”. In this song Peter teamed with Gwen Guthrie for this classic. One line says, “You bring the sunshine when it’s dark, with nothing but love sweet love. And make me smile and say it’s fine. When I haven’t got a dime. Love, true love…You are the essence of everything I love. Oh Baby, Oh Baby,” Peter also addressed the issues of religion, identity and language deconstruction within the lyrics of his wide ranging repertoire, “Oh Bumbo Klaat!
Peter unashamedly took on the major international social ill of the time, that of apartheid and the “Stepping Razor” recorded a number of anti-apartheid songs, two of which are “Fight On. “Fight on brothers, fight on, Fight on and free your land. Fight on sisters, fight on, Fight on and free your fellow man.” and “Downpressor Man” “Downpressor man, Where you gonna run to
Downpressor man, where you gonna run to. Downpressor man, Where you gonna run to all along that day. You gonna run to the sea But the sea will be boiling….”
It can be argued that the impact of Tosh’s music and its rich lyrical content still hold relevance and cultural and social significance today as it did in the time of their recording. It is intriguing to see that this reggae icon and his music have apparently found grounding and academia legitimacy by none other that the University of the West Indies. The crowd turn out to the symposium speaks volume of the high regard many people still have of his musical brilliance. In analyzing Peter Tosh’s songs one clearly sense a high level of spirituality and black consciousness. Tosh’s Creation, commonly mistaken for “Jah Is My Keeper” readily comes to mind in this regard.
“King of Kings, Halleujah, Lord of Lords, Halleujah
King of Kings, Halleujah, Lord of Lords, Halleujah
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Jah.
In the beginning Jah created the Heaven and the Earth.”
It is rather ironic that this song is now used in church and religious circles. Tosh continues to hold significant sway over almost all genres of music more than three decades after his death. In 2012, Peter Tosh was awarded the Order of Merit, (OM), Jamaica’s third highest national honour. It is perhaps a testament to this reggae icon that in death the ‘rebel’ Peter has managed to convert some of the old vampires.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
#PeterTosh #reggae #music #entertainment