I feel like a stuck record (yes, remember when the black discs would have scratches and the needle would hit one and couldn’t go any further?) on remembering, celebrating and learning from Peter Tosh. It is a groove I long to get out of – I would really like to write a column chortling about widescale homage being paid to the Stepping Razor in a particular year, but it is not happening. So, here we go again, as the anniversary of Peter Tosh being murdered in Barbican in 1987 got (at best) a muted acknowledgement.
The September 11 anniversary of Tosh rolled around, again, a couple weeks ago, with the expected acknowledgement of the plane attacks in the USA. However, there is another factor which is tied into one of Tosh’s signal moments. Paramount’s Bob Marley biopic is due next year and, in a recent column which engaged extensively with what possibly lies ahead based on the trailer, the One Love Peace Concert of 1978 is a focal point. That concert was one of Tosh’s defining performance moments, not only for the songs, but especially so for the speech he made about the political situation of the time and its effect on the Jamaican population.
He said many things, but one that has stuck with me was when he stated, “I am not a politician, but I suffer the consequences”. We all do, to varying degrees.
Although his performance has been released as a concert CD, Peter Tosh isn’t blameless for not having a bigger footprint on an iconic event in the nexus of popular music and politics. For while there is footage of Marley, including the moment where he held Seaga and Manley’s hands over his head, Peter Tosh warned those who would have filmed him about securing his rights and declaring that is lightning me flash. So, he was left out.
And, we cannot escape the fact that Tosh’s family has not done enough to honour him publicly on a grand scale. It was Marley’s family which took the first, foundation steps towards making him larger than life after his death in 1981, six years before Tosh. Now, the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road is the biggest tourist pull in Kingston, but it started as a family project. The family has been publicly united about Tuff Gong’s value (in more ways than one) and the sons of different mothers performing on stage together is the most consistent, striking example of this. On the other hand, Tosh’s family has not been anywhere as willing to point in one direction on maximising the rich resource that they have in their bloodline. And that is putting it very mildly.
Tosh’s relevance goes way beyond birth and death dates. It is mind-boggling that he has not been acknowledged as a hero of the marijuana decriminalisation movement – and ‘Legalise It’ is just the tip of the spliff. I do not go to that many retro parties anymore, but when I used to Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Hotshot’ was a staple in the semi-disco section, but not Tosh’s uptempo exhortation to “light yuh spliff, light yuh chalice”. I passed through Belmont, Westmoreland, about three weeks ago and looked for signs of Peter Tosh’s presence. I must have missed them.
Still, we do what we can and, as the date 36 years ago that Peter Tosh was killed came and went, I write once more about remembering him. I am not claiming to be the sole voice, as I am sure that there have been many more, like me, marking the date as more than when the Twin Towers blazed, and firefighters became heroes. I am sure that music was played, memories were rehashed, pictures were looked at and words were printed.
But far from enough.
Mel Cooke covered Jamaican entertainment as a print journalist for almost two decades, overlapping with his MPhil research on dancehall and experiential marketing with the Institute of Caribbean Studies, UWI, Mona, where he is now working on a PhD while lecturing in the Bachelor of Arts, Communication Arts and Technology (BACAT) programme at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Ja.).