Peter Tosh ADD

Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh considered himself a displaced African. He conceptualised that great continent as a state of mind, which means he could live his Africaness without ever going there. At the same time, however, Peter related to Africa in its reality. He saw it as a continent blessed with magnificent history, majesty and tradition, yet, beset with bloodshed, ethnic conflict, and poverty, which he attributed to the lasting effects of colonial exploitation and oppression.   Connecting the conceptual to the real, Tosh acknowledged Africa as a place he would someday visit, in fact even live. He eloquently expressed in many interviews his 'overstanding' of the motherland and his willingness to 'go back home.' In one such interview, he resolutely stated, 'The future with me is in Africa. My song say Mama Africa, that is just telling Africa I am coming home.'   Yet, on the other hand, although his main objective was Africa itself, Tosh loved Jamaica, which he dubbed, 'Jah mek yah,' and considered the island of his birth a piece of Africa afloat in the Caribbean - what he termed 'carry us/them beyond.'   His artistic response to that dislocation was to address Africa's historic significance by singing its praise, and encouraging an African identity. The song African, one of his many compositions that convey his awareness, provides a sense of Tosh's ideal:   Don't care where you come from As long as you're a black man, You're an African Never mind your nationality You have got the identity of an African If your plection high, high, high If your plection low, low, low If your plection in between You're an African   These lyrics clearly demonstrate Tosh's views on identity and suggest an Afro-Jamaican and diasporic relationship to Africa. At the same time, he addressed the realities of Africa's contemporary problems by highlighting the issues that plagued it. Above all, Tosh dedicated himself to the political freedom of Africa and committed himself to its liberation in both words and deed.   During the apartheid era, and before many of his fellow singers and musicians knew its meaning and implications, Tosh took a stance against the white supremacist governments of South and South West Africa and their Western allies. He openly supported the African Nationalist Congress (ANC) and South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) resistance movements. As a reaction, Tosh composed and recorded his seminal album, Equal Rights in 1977. The powerful title song was programmed with African, 400 Hundred Years, Get Up Stand Up, Downpressor Man and Apartheid.   These songs all voiced his support for African liberation and his concerns for the world's oppressed.   Tosh talked direct, he addressed the situation as he saw it and he put his money where he put his mouth. Peter Tosh often performed for free on many anti-apartheid concerts, at times paying from his own pocket those in the band and crew who insisted on being paid. Their demands would not prevent Tosh from giving his energy and talents to the cause of African freedom.   Tosh kept himself abreast of the various liberation struggles, their supporters and detractors and energetically engaged anyone sharing his opinion (or not) in lively discussions and debates on the subject. He read and passed on to those interested, a book he purchased in Brussels called the Broederbund (Brotherhood) that provided a background to the origins and implementation of the apartheid system. He met and spent time in reasoning sessions with Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), Angela Davis and others with similar reputations for engaging in progressive struggle.   Along with Toure and Davis, and like the celebrated renaissance man, political activist and fellow entertainer, Harry Belafonte - with whom he did a video special in 1976 - Tosh was not afraid of being on the front line. In 1967, he was arrested outside the British High Commission in Kingston protesting Ian Smith's take over of the former Rhodesia, now the South West African state of Zimbabwe. And he never gave up music as his primary weapon. Songs such as African, Mama Africa, and I am Going Home, are other samples of Tosh's recorded reactions to Africa and its liberation.   In the heated election campaign of 1980, and in spite of Marley being previously shot (1976) for agreeing to perform on the Smile Jamaica Show, which was perceived as a political gesture, Tosh conceived and staged the Youth Consciousness 1 and 2 concerts at the Jamaica House grounds and at Fort Clarence. It was his way of communicating to youth, both as a reprimand to turn away from tribalism and partisan violence and for them to support what he thought the more progressive option offered. Jahman Inna Jamdung, recorded for the Equal Rights album was the theme:   Jah man inna Jamdung Have some faith my brother There are many, many tribulations But have some faith my brothers Undoubtedly, the recording Equal Rights remains Peter Tosh's flagship recording. It is also one of the most outstanding recordings to address socio-political issues as a global problem. As a complete work, it captures the racial, political immorality and systemic inhumanities that was part of the world of the 70s, a situation that remains to the present.   Shifting the highlight from the specificity of South Africa's apartheid and placing the focus on the continent in general, Tosh's revolutionary spirit, communal solidarity and feminist consciousness are evident in the song Fight On:   Africa has got to be free Fight on brothers, fight on Fight on and free your land Fight on sisters, fight on Fight on and free your fellow man Cos if Africa is not free Then we all will be Back in shackles you see My brothers fight on Fight on and free yourselves Fight on and free your land Fight on and free your fellowman   Among his fans, Tosh's Africanist image is generally known, though in general, he has been slighted, not taken seriously or really understood. Its disturbing that with the day of his birth fast approaching, Tosh remains a grossly underappreciated, under represented, and even taken for granted singer/musician.   He was, and continues to be viewed in many circles as a somewhat cantankerous individual who existed in the shadow of his former group member and brethren Bob Marley. Yet, in my mind, Peter Tosh was not only a most complex human being, but also, was one of his era's most politically aware, incisive, musically engaging, and truly entertaining performers.   As for me, he remains one of the most important, insightful and committed twentieth century political musicians and activist I have observed. His pragmatic observation of local and world politics influenced his compositions. Tosh was a musician whose best socio-political works parallel that of anyone working in that style. That is, everyone from Robeson to Marley.   On the lighter side, what is unknown by most, is that Peter Tosh had a grand sense of humour. He was young at heart and as funny as any stand up comedian, or that he spent quite some time purchasing toys and gadgets associated with youth culture and activities for his own use. So, skateboards, roller skates, slingshots, electric motorcars, unicycles and layback cycles (the two most grown up of his many toys) were most precious and guarded. He also loved pets and kept fishes, a variety of rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds.   His favourite was Freddie, the parrot. I once had to talk Peter out of returning from a European tour with a pet chimpanzee, for me, it was a monumental achievement since it was virtually impossible to talk him out of some things, including 'beating the gate' with the hamsters from a previous tour.   How difficult might it be to convince the record labels holding Peter Tosh's best-recorded material - Sony, EMI, Rolling Stone/Atlantic and Island - to embark on a campaign to establish this musical giant and important political activist to the height he deserves? Short of political reasons which certainly, record labels have been known to use as excuses on a purely musical level, I hope not too difficult. On behalf of those for whom Peter Tosh lives, I say, Happy Earthday, Mystic Bush Doctor.

Biography by Herbie Miller


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