My Dear Friends,
Let’s Introduce You to the Mystic Man
By Nicholas Ellis
In a modern world lacking a credible moral compass, I advise an education of reggae’s, Jamaica’s, mine and Rastafarian hero, Peter Tosh. Tosh walked a path only he could define; paved through his beliefs, which were never compromised throughout his life.
”I know who I came to be,
I have to be me,
I don’t care what people want to say,
Because peoples will always say”
He was a revolutionary of Justice notably on the song, ‘equal rights’ featuring the words ‘Everyone is crying out for peace, yes, No one is crying out for justice’. Unfortunately this was in a decade where peace preceded his vision. It is now that we see the visionary seeds he planted through his life and classic albums, such ‘No Nuclear War, ‘Legalize it’, and ‘Bush Doctor’. As discomforting as fate will have it, history teaches in retrospect.
Tosh was born into humble beginnings on the 19 October 1944 in a tin room shanty in the impoverished yet serine seaside town of Westmoreland, Jamaica the nation’s westernmost parish. His family made their living through the local farms and would fish in the nearby sea like most families in Westmoreland.
Peter was always unique, he displayed talent as a musical prodigy from a young age beginning with the guitar at five years old then evolving onto piano music at thirteen. He would proclaim, ‘I would play the songs of the angels.’
The locals of Westmoreland would pay Peter to play them songs having a great fondness and admiration for Peter’s unique voice. In the years that passed, his fan base would move onwards from Westmoreland to Kingston and around the globe.
From a young age Peter would visit the local Baptist church with family yet it was here that Peter began to have doubts upon not only religion beliefs, but society, history, and the bias politics Jamaica had all but seen since the colonial era within the world around him.
Upon arriving in Kingston, Jamaica after his father died, Peter lived in trench town. Trench town was a slum, known as the Calcutta of the western hemisphere where you lived in fear of attack, robbery and disease. Death seemed like the only possibility of escape. Many in trench town were black and witnessing such slums forced him to act and question how he could make a difference? ‘Cold ground was my bed at night and rock was my pillow too, ‘ it was not simply poetic license.
As fate would have it another Jamaican prodigy, Bob Marley resided in the infamous Trench town and alongside Tosh, and Bunny Wailer formed The Wailers. The name was birthed out of there being plenty of wailing to do in the circumstances surrounding Trench town.
Inspiration often hijacks us in the most unlikely locations and in Trench town I would argue both Bob and Peter found many aspects in their lives here to draw upon, which would become part of the DNA of the Wailers work. The acclaimed album, ‘Catch a Fire’ deals with social injustice towards black people, and ‘the current state of urban poverty’.
At 22, Peter after denouncing his families Christian beliefs, ‘If he was created in the image of God then why isn’t God Black?’ defied the establishment and became a Rastafarian which he felt empowered him.
Peter Identified with the teachings of the Rasta that God or Jah is black; Africans are the ‘true’ chosen people and that the Ethiopian Haille Selassie was the holy messiah prophesised by the Holy Bible in Issiah about a black king being crowned in Africa. ‘It is a fact and can be proven historically, biblically Haille Selassie is the returned messiah.’
Tosh’s epic first album was titled, ‘Legalize It’, with the lead single about legalizing Marijuanna, which he saw as a fundamental statement, in part by his own Rasta beliefs, ‘This was created by the creator, it is spiritual, Jah created it for the motivation of the mind of man.’
The striking cover art for Legalize it, featured Peter smoking his chalice pipe in a marijuana plantation in the Jamaican countryside. The song and cover seemingly representing Peter Tosh the artist and the man. The great Jamaican music producer Bunny Lee who knew Tosh well during his career states, ‘Young people should think of Peter Tosh as a great revolutionary in music- and as a person.
The talent displayed in the album, ‘Legalize It’ is astonishing with music encompassing a vast array of genres including, rock, soul, and reggae teamed with a distinct voice, combined with an ethos of political songs virtuous of Tosh yet there are exquisite outpourings within ballads of a philosophical nature. Such ballads are never simple, or filled with generic phrases, such as ‘I will love you, forever’ it is more an education of emotions.
Occasionally I fail to acknowledge Peter Tosh the human, as he seems so gigantic and mythical to a simple mortal as I. Yet on the track ‘Why must I cry’ his ever endearing honesty sums up the harsh realization of love at times,
‘I will never fall in love again,
Cause only my heart feels the pain, Feels the pain’
You can hear almost imagine with suprise how lonely Peter must have been whilst you sing along to the repeated phrase, ‘Why must I trod this lonely, lonely, road, Why must I carry this heavy, heavy, load?’
Equal Rights brought together Peter Tosh s dedications to the revolutionary movements growing in Africa, and the mysticism and wonders of his personal growth as a prophet, poet, preacher and world-class musical trailblazer. The album included a number of songs that became human rights anthems over the next two decades: Get Up, Stand Up, Downpressor Man, African, Apartheid, and the title tune. There were also intensely personal songs of his revelations as a Rasta: I Am That I Am and Jah Guide ; and the ultimate rude boy, proto-punk declaration of Stepping Razor
Tosh’s enigmatic Talent attracted The Rolling Stones . The band made him the only signing to their record label and hoped to gain credibility from association with an uncompromising iconoclast. They released the album Wanted Dread & Alive. They took him on their stadium tour, introducing him to new audiences. Mick Jagger sung with him on a duet and gave him a hit (“Don’t Look Back. This wasn’t enough for Tosh. He accuses them of not promoting him properly.
He was so principled and their hedonistic rock’n’roll lifestyle didn’t interest him – he was genuinely revolutionary in his thoughts and ambitions for his music and he really did want to change the world with his songs even if it alienated him. As Tosh sang: “I’m like a steppin’ razor, don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous!
Tosh’s third album, ‘Bush Doctor’ was a leap forward, in both production terms and showmanship as Tosh attempts to break through into the international market upon release on Rolling Stones record. Stand out tracks include, ‘Pick myself up’, ‘Soon come’ and ‘Stand firm’, as well as the mighty title track. It also featured Tosh’s duet with Mick Jagger, ‘Don’t look back’ and the biblical epic, ‘Creation’. Never on ‘Bush Doctor’ do you feel you are being ‘ranted at’ or emotions of complaint, such was the man’s talent but Tosh pulls no punches either
In 1987, months before his murder, Tosh created the album, ‘No Nuclear War. Posthumously, it won him a Grammy. The sounds were fresh and the lyrics as potent and poetic, as ever even after months in seclusion living the quiet life in rural Jamaica. ‘No Nuclear War is perhaps my favourite album from Tosh, as with retrospect, represents poetic irony in the never say die attitude, I am what I am attitude of the songs, and after all these years Peter continues combining his principles within his art.
The one love, One peace concert went down in history because Bob Marley called Manley and Seaga on stage and made them shake hands, in front of the television cameras. Tosh’s earlier, braver action was not televised because he ordered the ‘lickle pirates from America… wid dem camera and dem TV business’ to stop filming.
Today, Tosh’s legacy is gaining justice and its own equal rights around the world, amongst rock and rolls hall of fame and that of his former band mate, Bob Marley. Notably, Jamaica after long time distancing itself from Tosh seems cosy to the idea of laying claim to one of its most disobedient sons, as with a biography, a film, an annual symposium, and a birthday concert, the man born Winston, Hubert Mcintosh is finally receiving recognition. Last year, the governing People’s National Party, which Tosh supported awarded him Jamaica’s great honour, the Order of Merit, which was bestowed on Marley in the weeks before Bob’s death from cancer in 1981.
With the world still threatened by the outpourings of violent rhetoric, regarding Nuclear War and with equal rights being intensely questioned around the globe, most notably in Europe with the recent influx of immigrants from the middle east (amongst continents and countries), I feel that with what Peter Tosh championed through his Art and actions all them years ago we could create evermore harmony for everyone, standing by his pure and simple messages of justice, and equal rights.