The light go down, the lights go up… and a tall dark man moves lithely up to center stage. He halts at the microphone. He turns with a sway, as if moved merely by the wind and he faces the people: Peter Tosh. The light shines like twin stars off a pair of welder’s dark glasses that this black man wears. Peter Tosh. He wears a pair of green pants, baggy at the top and tight at the bottom in the same way the Chinese have their ‘GI’ outfits. The shirt top is loose and looks like an air-filled kimono. He stands tall, about 6 feet 1 inch. From his lips hangs a chalice filled with ganga from the fields back of Yard (Jamaica). Peter Tosh. He lowers his head and lights his chalice. A huge puff of smoke drifts across the stage. The music begins.
Drums explode into bass, explode into organ, explode into clavinet. Musical euphoria. Peter Tosh. His fingers move fleetingly across the strings of his guitar, and out of it come short, pointed, stabbing. Reggae rhythm guitar licks. Peter’s penetrating rhythm guitar has become a trendsetter in the music industry. His voice wafts high above the instruments. His song is ‘Stepping Razor’ from his new album, “Equal Rights”:
If you wanna live, I beg you,
Treat me good.
I’m like a stepping razor, don’t you watch my size.
If you are a bully,
Treat me good.
I’m like a walking razor, don’t you watch my size.
Tosh, now only 32, has been singing and making music for over fifteen years as part of the original Wailers. In the early 60’s, he, together with Bunny ‘Wailer’ Livingston and Bob Marley harmonized on the ghetto streetcorners of Kingston’s notorious Trench town – the same way the early ‘do-wop’ singers did in the US. In spite of great acclaim for their talents, the three found the first ten years very rough and completely unprofitable. Their records were hits in both Jamaica and Europe but they saw no royalties – the racketeers who control the Jamaican reggae recoding industry thoroughly ripped them off. Adequate rewards stayed just out of each for the Wailers – but did not stop the group from continuing to make splendid music.
Reggae is basically a 4/4 meter with accents on off-bats. Many are syncopated. In the few years that reggae has appeared on the international music scene, it’s grown into the most promising musical form to emerge from the Caribbean – a form that has made, and will continue to make, millions of the record industry. Many believe that it will soon be as popular as blues or rock, Eric Clapton’s million seller, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ was a reggae number bob Marley wrote, Reggae influenced the Beatles’ ‘Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-di, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Rock Steady,’ Paul Simon’s ‘Mother and Child Reunion,’ Led Zeppelin’s ‘D’ yer Mak’er,’ Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’ and numerous other rhythmic arrangements.
However, the reggae tune that had the greatest impact internationally was Johny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. As one of the Wailers, Peter played on the album, although he never got public acclaim for it.
Those who have seen “The Harder they Come” know that reggae is the driving force behind this excellent movie, which until recently has played consecutive weekends at the Elgin Theater in Yew York for the past three years. In the movie, Jimmy Cliff is a struggling musician whose music is loved by the Jamaican people.
Peter Tosh is loved by the people. In Yard today, Peter has more “Grass-roots” power than any other artist, including Marley, for he lives among the people, and he has the time and patience to relate to them. Many of his strong convictions grow out of these intimate relationships. And much of it grows out of, to quote Tosh “exploitation, humiliation, and victimization. “The cutting-edge of his social protest was sharpened by his brutalization at the hands of the Jamaican Police. A few years ago Peter was smoking ganga in his backyard when he was accosted and beaten by several policeman.
Peter’s message is aimed at the political moguls who hold in Babylon (Western society). His people are the poor, and downtrodden under-dogs who have been kicked underfoot by the system, not only in Jamaica but all over the world. Peter’s message is universal. His message flows from a mind that is distressed by the hypocrisy of the ‘shitstem’ (system). He says, “I will never stop signing my song because that is the only kind of help I can render. Jah (God) say we are not here for principalities, but to fight spiritual wickedness in high and low places. Singing is a talent given to me by Jah from such time, to wake up the slumbering mentality of people, bring them closer to reality.”
‘Stepping Razor’ is one of the many songs in the new album in which Peter cries out against the bullies, calls for an end to discrimination, and demands equal rights and justice in this world which Jah made. Jah gave the world freely to all, he says, so everyone could walk free.
The lights change to rea/orange and Peter flows into the song, ‘Equal Right’, the title tune of the new album.
Everyone is crying out for justice.
I don’t want no peace.
I don’t want no peace.
I need equal rights and justice.
Justice supersedes peace because peace can be assured only when justice reigns. Calling for peace before justice is like putting the cart before the horse. Tosh sees through this game. His songs reflect the highest social and political awareness, and reminds one of Bob Dylan. Dylan’s songs ranged from a militant self-awareness to an astute political and cultural awareness. He became a symbol of the new American generation. Like Dylan, Tosh is not considered just an entertainer, but is regarded as a leader. He was even asked to represent the Rastafarians in the Jamaican Parliaments, but he says amusingly, “I defend everything which is right and awakening to black people’s mentality, but I will not go into the Hosue of Representatives. Because there is so much corruption in ‘poli-tricks’, I don’t want to get involved. Seen?”(Understood?”)
The song goes …
We got to get equal right and justice,
And there’ll be no crime.
Equal rights and justice,
There’ll be no criminals.
Equal rights and justice
Everyone is fighting for
Equal rights and justice.
Tosh is revolutionary, in his country he is a hero. We live in times when entertainment is such a total part of our lives that entertainers now serve the function one occupied by prophets and saints. Dylan, Baez, Stevie Wonder, Tosh. Peter says, “I was created to be with music. My music is message and if it’s not message I don’t bother saying it. Seen? I don’t want to get too revolutionary. I am revolutionary, but I don’t want to go on the subversive side. Yu’ know, Seen?”
On the scene today, Tosh is perhaps the best example of entertainer-leader-fold hero. As he travels the winding country roads and crowded city streets in Jamaica, people flock to him for advice, for a joke or just for a smile. This man has magnetism. In an interview with Dick Wingate, product manager for Tosh at Columbia, he said “Tosh appeals to everyone. He is powerful, and he deals in reality. Peter is the man to take reggae to the top of international charts.”
Peter just signed a contact with Columbia Records. Columbia is the biggest and most powerful music promotion and distribution organization in the world. Their interest in reggae and Peter Tosh is indicative of the tremendous impact they have on the music world. But for Peter himself, previous record deals have not brought the rewards they should.
His problems are the same as those faced by many performers. For an artist, the business of making a hit record is long, difficult and often unrewarding. Managers can be the con-men who rip off large portions of the money that justly belongs to the artist. A certain manger still gets twenty thousand dollars on each of Peter’s albums for doing absolutely no work! He is no longer connected with Peter, but an existing contract gives him this money over the next for years. Peter comments, “So many complications, so much organization ‘til you don’t know who is who. And every man comes to tell you he comes to represent you, vindicate for your rights. And you don’t know him. He hand around a couple years and then he’s just missing. Vampires! But right now, no guy can rip I off. I gon’ deal with a culture which was taken away from I and i.”
Tosh can easily become the biggest star to come out of the Caribbean. It would be natural for Peter Tosh, a most revered reggae artist, to find his way to the top. For he says, “I upon a mission. Reggae is life, man. If you heat the roots, you love it. Reggae helps to wake up certain sprit vibrations within us and pull us back to the Creator. Earth is the headquarters of propaganda now. And news is rumor and rumor is public mischief. Through the divine power of Jah we are not here to fight physically but to fight spiritual wickedness. Seen?”
The song ‘Equal Rights’ ends Peter take off his che Cuevera tam and shakes his deadlocks from side to side. Below the stage, the audience screams and claps. Shouts are heard – “Tosh! Tosh! – then more screams and more shouts. “Do Legalize It!” screams a voice, “Mark of the beast!” screams another. “Get up Stand Up!” a female voice insists with finality. These are hits which were written by Peter during his long years with the Wailers. Prior to his first solo album. “Legalize it”, Peter, Bob Marley, and Bunny ‘Wailer’ Livingston performed together, turning out such it albums as “Catch a Fire” and “Burning,” Other hits written by Peter While he was with the Wailers include, ‘I am The Toughest, “400 years,” Babylon Queendom,’ ‘Stop That Train,’ ‘You Can’t Blame the Youth’ and ‘Maga Dog.
Now standing calmly before the cheering audience. Peter smiles, takes a flaming puff on his herb pipe and again shakes his dreadlocks from side-to-side.
Peter Tosh is a Rastaman. His God is Jah. His true home is Ethiopia where he finds his spiritual focus. The Rastafarians trace their religious and cultural origins back to the Twelve tribes of Israel. They consider themselves a tribe of Israelites estranged in a western materialistic culture. The Rastafarians and the Indians are equal in their love and worship of Nature. They place their faith in fruits and herbs and roots medicine. They smoke the herb (ganga) of the rich black soil of Yard and take off on their spiritual séances. When relaxing, Peter smokes his chalice with his parrot, Freddie, sitting on top of his head. Soon both of them are afloat and at total peace with the universe. It no wonder that they call Peter Tosh the headman. He’s all brains and all head. Peter once had a vision of himself in fight without the presence of airplanes, helicopters, gliders, kites, parachutes and other unnecessary conveyances.
The mood changes and the message becomes more spiritual as Peter goes into his song. ‘I Am That I Am’:
Don’t belittle my authority
It’s time you recognize my quality
I Am that I Am.
I Am, I am, I Am…
I am the rock of ages.
You can not move I at all.
As the concert continues, Earl ‘Wai’ Lindo Plays an eastern line on the organ, lead guitar lines lace the air spaces, the drums roll and smash! Peter raises his head as if startled out of a dream. Then he goes into the title songs of his first solo album. “Legalize it. This song is a strong demand for the legalization of marijuana. Peter says “Herb is one of Jamaica’s international resources. Seen? Jamaica has the earth to produce the best herb in the West. I am listening one day to see the first shipment legally leave the country, in the same way as rum and bauxite does.” “Legalize IT” was banned in Jamaica and could get no air play until Prime Minister Michael Manley interceded. It became an instant hit.
Don’t’ criticize it,
Legalize it, yeah, yeah,
And I Will advertise it…
It’s good for the fles
Good for asthma,
Good for tuberculosis…
Got to legalize it!
Word of wisdom. As a Rastaman, smoking herb is a part of Peter’s custom. He says, “When I have some real good Colly herb, I feel like I’m floating three feet off the ground. Someday I know I’m gonna’ flay.”
At a time when songs deal with mostly sex and love, Tosh brings a refreshing difference to popular music. His message of love, justice, and peace cries out like a voice in the wilderness when few other artist pay attention to these important issues.
To those who know and love Peter, he is a hero. He says, “Music is a tree that growth forth fruit and that fruit is message,” Peter Tosh and his message are one.
Amid a clapping, screaming, singing audience, Peter winds up the ‘heavy’ show with the reggae national anthem. “Get Up, Stand Up” which was co-written with Bob Marley. It was a great night and new day for popular music.
Tosh has managed to weather the storm of bad breaks, and now he’s riding the tide of opportunity. In addition to a cross-country tour beginning in late July in Los Angeles and ending early September in Jamaica, West Indies, Peter will soon be seen in a movie as a karate expert destroying a villain, to the beat of this tune,
Peter Tosh may travel far and wide singing his message songs, but he says firmly, “I will never leave the heart of Jamaica”.
Love, Justice and success to headman, Peter Tosh.