Top Practitioner of Reggae mylitis

By Paula Brooks

Peter Tosh has become one of the leading exponents of Reggae music since the death of Bob Marley. One of the original members of The Wailers, he is continuing to spread the word.

Turn off your radios. Be wary of anyone you don't know! There's a dread disease that's sweeping across, not only in U S., but the entire world! It is called Reggae mylitis, and the man responsible for its rapid spread is none other than the Jamaican musician, Peter Tosh.

Tosh began a career at the tender age of three, soon learning to use percussion instruments, the guitar. piano, and harmonica as deadly weapons.

Early in the 0's, he combined his ferocious talents with those of the equally awesome, Bob Marley, and Bunny Livingston. They continued to mesmerize Jamaican audiences until the early 70's when news of their hypnotic effect on their listeners began to spread throughout the Caribbean and Europe.

The problem was, once you heard the music, it was too late- Reggae mylitis was setting in! The group called themselves The Wailers and through songs such as "Burnin' (and Lootin')", and, "400 Years," they decried the plight of the masses of economically ravished Jamaicans.

Many were at the mercy of the few who controlled the wealth of the country. "Get Up Stand Up" (for your rights) co-authored by Marley and Tosh, soon became an unofficial anthem for the poor.

Although the group disbanded in 1974, they were already feared and branded as rabble-rousers by the powers that be as members of the faith of Rastafari (a way of life - not merely a religion), a group which condones the use of marijuana and all other organic substances they became literal sitting targets for the Jamaican police.

In 1975, Peter's home was ransacked and he was badly beaten, all in the name of law and order. Understandably bitter, Peter wrote and recorded ."Mark of the Beast", which became a best seller despite the fact his government banned it from the island airwaves.

Peter's first solo album was a controversial ball of wax, which advocated that the government "Legalize It ". He then formed an alliance with a band called Word, Sound and Power, that exists to this day. It features the primal rhythms of Sly Dunbar, and the beat keeping bass of Robbie Shakespeare.

Their first album was full of Peter Tosh references to troubled Mother Africa, "Apartheid," "Africa", and the title cut "Equal Rights", which proclaimed "I don't wan' peace, I need equal rights and justice," are prime examples.

Peter continued to champion the rights of the common people through the inclusion of songs such as "Day the Dollar Dies," "Rumors of War", and "Buk-in-Hamm Palace."

Peter started a 52 city North American tour-July 28, in Philadelphia which ends October 12, in Miami. This is the longest and biggest tour of the U S and Canada in the history of reggae music.

I asked Peter how he was holding up under the pressures of such a rigorous performance schcdule. He replied in a voice that was pure energy and iron will -

"Well I just finished touring 26 cities in Europe, and you can imagine tho amount of energies. It was 5 weeks, 26 cities. Lots of energies, my dear! You can imagine how I'm supposed to feel exhausted, but I don't feel that way at this point."

I could feel Tosh revving up!

It was apparent he is the type to take charge of any and all situations he becomes involved in. I wondered how he had been received in Europe. His enthusiastie response, "Incomparable, my dear! They received me kingly!"

Peter emphasized the last word and continued, "They received me with much respect. Yes, they love reggae music. I wanted to know if his audiences had been mainly white?

"All white, in places like East Berlin, W. Berlin, Paris and Italy. I felt good (playing for them) because it's a work that has to be done. As long as people will accept the music, it is for me to play."

But are they really listening to and accepting your political lyrics or are they simply enjoying the music?, I queried.

''As long as one part of the house is attractive (because music is a house), if the foundation attracts you to it-then you will buy the house", declared Peter. In other words, you have to get their anention first.

When the Wailers first started their careers, their visual image was much more conservative than it is today. He went on to explain why he feels his music is particurly relevant to black people all over the world, not only in Jamaica, or the Caribbean.

"My music is very, very relevant to black people. It is a motivation of black consciousness everytime. Irrespective of the evil forces that exist and try to eliminate the consciousness of black people. We know that the powers of Rastafari exist, they are a force against evil forces in the air".

What is reggae? Where did it originate?, these were my next questions. Peter answered.

Seriously, "Reggae music is a schoolroom of consciousness. It's a schoolroom interpreted in music. I say this because of the psychological and spiritual effects in the music.

"It hypnotizes people automatically and makes you tap your toes to it, subconsciously nod your head, snap your fingers to it."

But what about the vast number of black Americans that know nothing about reggae music, and who probably never heard of Peter Tosh? Peter was more confident than ever.

I know there are many that reggae hasn't gotten into yet, but whatever time I get the opportunity of seeing a little of them I'm quite sure I will be able to hypnotize them. And one tongue will tell another ear what eyes have seen.

I wondered about Peter's visions of the future. Did he foresee a movement back to Africa? Tosh replied thoughtfully:

Most people think of a physical repatriation when you say movement back to Africa. But until people have been spiritually repatriated it will be very difficult for you to move them. Its like leading a horse to water and trying to make him drink. But economic pressure is going to force black people back into themselves.