PTBMTRADER'S PETER TOSH articles -reggae international, stephen davis-

"Jamaicans look to Peter Tosh for uncompromising Rastafarian preaching and for moral authority undented by the lead-tipped clubs of the police. Whatever he goes in this world, Tosh brings that righteous aura along with him. At some concerts, steel manacles hang from Peter's left wrist, symbolic of the social chains that bind a suffering people back home. In Toronto, a reviewer said that watching a Peter Tosh show was like staring the entire black race dead in the face.

After leaving the Wailers in 1974, Tosh recorded the pro-ganja anthem 'Legalize It' and the anti-cop polemic 'Mark of the Beast,' as well as two crucial albums in the development of reggae from local ricky-tick into a planetary sound, Legalize It and the stinging, epochal Equal Rights. But the turning point in his career was the so-called "Peace Concert" held in Kingston in 1978, at which Jamaica's top reggae groups had agreed to perform.

Among those attending the show were members of Jamaica's political elite - Prime Minister Michael Manley and his cabinet, the opposition leaders, and most of Jamaica's parliament and judiciary. Tosh sauntered onstage with a ganja cigar in his beak and proceeded to lecture his captive audience for 45 minutes on the evils of oppression, neocolonialism, and the 'shitstem.' Pointing a long black finger at Manley, Tosh harangued the prime minister on the sufferings of a poor people deprived of human rights and legal marijuana. The crowd of ordinary Jamaicans in the audience, assembled in the bleachers, cheered themselves hoarse. Tosh and the band then lit into a stinging set that ended pointedly with 'Legalize It.'

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones happened to be at the Peace Concert and witnessed Tosh's dread-brillant folk essay on political economy that day, and then the spellbinding music that Tosh and band, propelled by Sly & Robbie, put forth afterward, 'I don't want no peace. I want equal rights and justice.' Perhaps Jagger also got that eerie, impossible-to-resist feeling of staring the entire black race dead in the face.

Signed to the Rolling Stone' label, Tosh, Sly and Robbie recorded three important albums (Bush Doctor, Mystic Man, Wanted Dread or Alive) that showcased updated versions of Tosh classics ('Soon Come,' 'I'm the Toughest') and new avant-garde reggae ideas like 'Buck-in-Hamm Palace' and 'Oh Bumba Klaat.' With the Stones' support, Tosh retained his place as one of the premier reggae singers of his generations.

This interview took place in a hotel in Cambridge, Mass., during the first Word Sound and Power tour in 1979. In the corner of the room Tosh's omnipresent 'Inicycle' leaned against the wall. Tosh rides the tall unicycle everywhere - backstage, while visiting radio stations, down long hotel corridors, at four in the morning. The Inicycle has been all over the world with Tosh and seems eblematic of its owner's stance in a dangerous world: precarious yet balanced, eccentric, uniquely upright. During the interview Winston Hubert MacIntosh manhandled and drew upon an impressive coneshaped spliff. SSSSwwwwwffffftttttttt!!!! " - Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis: It must be difficult for a touring reggae band to maintain its herb supply.

Peter Tosh: Well, herb is all over America, mon. You don't have to bring no herb here anymore. Ssssswwwwwffftttt. Ahhh.

Stephen Davis: Is it as good as what you find in Jamaica?

Peter Tosh: No way. Psychologically, you just have to pretend that it is good - pretend that you smoking the best draw - till you reach home, where the best is.

Stephen Davis: As a connoisseur of herb, what do you prefer?

Peter Tosh: Well, Thai stick not bad. And the Colombian now, the quality varies, but the other day I get a draw of Colombian in Milwaukee. Exclusive!! Ssssswwwwwffftttt.

Stephen Davis: In many of your songs, you call for legalizing marijuana. But there's a theory that if Jamaica legalized it, the country would be transformed into an outlaw agromomy operating under United Nations sanctions...

Peter Tosh: Bullshit! (kissing his teeth bitterly). Nine out of ten people in Jamaica smoke herb. Everyone an outlaw.

Stephen Davis: No, I mean the United Nations has these antidope statutes...

Peter Tosh: United Nations bullshit! (furious). Me no wanna hear that argument there. Who are them who take counsel against I & I, to see that I & I are separated from I & I culture? He who created the earth created herb for the use of man, seen? If herb was growing in the blood-clot United Nations, you think Jamaica could go tell United Nations what to do? So how come the bumba ras clot United Nations dare to come and tell us what to do? Fuck the United Nations! My Father grow herb, and if my Father know what is right would have made herb growing in the United blood-clot Nations, not just in Jamaica for I & I who praise him continually.

Stephen Davis: Why do Jamaican politicians pay so much attention to the music?

Peter Tosh: Well, dem have to listen to what the people say to know the people's view. Reggae is telling them what's on the people's mind, seen? 'Cause the singers and players of instrument are the prophets of the earth in this time. It was written: Jah say, "I call upon the singers and players of instruments to tell the word and wake up the slumbering mentality of the people." Seen?

Stephen Davis: What about your political speech at the Peace Concert?

Peter Tosh: I devoted my time and my energy to making a speech, because sitting before me I saw the prime minister and the whole establishment approximately. So it seemed the right time to say what I had to say as a representative of the people, because irrespective of the way I would like to live, I still must live within the shitstem. I've become a victim of the shitstem so many times.

Stephen Davis: What happened to you after the speech?

Peter Tosh: Three months later, yes, yes, yes! I was waiting for a rehearsal outside Aquarius Studio on Half Way Tree [a main Kingston avenue], waiting for two of my musicians, and I had a little piece of roach in my hand. A guy come up to me in plain clothes and grab the roach out of my hand. So I say him, wha' happen? He didn't say nothing, so I grab the roach back from him and he start to punch me up. I say again, wha' happen, and he say I must go dung so ["downtown" in police jargon]. I say, dung so? Which way you call dung so? That's when I realized this was a police attitude, so I opened the roach and blew out the contents. Well, him didn't like that and start to grab at me aggressively now - my waist, my shoulder, grabbing me and tearing off my clothes and things. Then other police come and pust their guns in my face and try brute force on me.

Stephen Davis: Did they know who you were?

Peter Tosh: No, I don't know. But you don't have to know a man to treat him the way he should be treated. But because I am humble and don't wear a jacket and tie and drive a big Lincoln Continental or Mercedes-Benz, I don't look exclusively different from the rest. I look like the people, seen? To them police, here's just another Rasta to kill. Now eight-to-ten guys gang my head with batons and weapons of destruction. They close the door, chase away the people and gang my head with batons for an hour and a half until my hand break trying to fend off the blows. I run to the window and they beat me back with blows. I run to the door and they beat me back with blows. Later I found out these guys' intentions was to kill me, right? What I had to do was play dead by just lying low. Passive resistance. And I hear them say, yes, he's dead. But I survived them, by intellect. Yes I.

Stephen Davis: Why'd they pick on you?

Peter Tosh: It was because of my militant act within the society, because I speak out against repression and the shitstem, seen? Yes mon! I know it's a direct connection. I've been threatened before in Kingston, the superintendent of customs drew his gun and said he had wanted to kill me for years.

Stephen Davis: Why are militant artists such a threat to Jamaica?

Peter Tosh: Because their words are corruption, and where there's corruption, there must be an eruption. Ya no see? Politriks! Politician been promising the most good but doing the most dangerous evil. And all the people get is promises. A generation come, and a generation go, and nothing is accomplished.

Stephen Davis: What about your relationship with the Stones?

Peter Tosh: Well, even their name alone is a great input. I see it as a blessing, seen? One of my Father's blessings, because I determination to spread the word. Finding Mick and Keith to spread the word and deal with the music - knowing they not only are interested in the music, but love and respect the music - is great, great blessing.

Stephen Davis: Is there an affinity between reggae's outlaw roots and the Stones' outlaw image?

Peter Tosh: Well, I see it and know it, so because I see and I know, who feels it knows it. Yeah mon!

Stephen Davis: Why did you and Mick choose to showcase an old Motown song, "Don't Look Back," in your Bush Doctor album, instead of one of your more militant songs?

Peter Tosh: Well, that is a psychological procedure, because I am a scientist, seen? 'Cause I'm a mon who has studied human psychology and knows what two-thirds of the world loves, seen? If you're trying to get across to two-thirds of the world, you proceed psychologically by giving them what they want. After they dance to what they want, they must listen to what you've got next, seen? And also I like the title, "Don't Look Back," beacause I don't intend to.

Stephen Davis: Why does preaching play such a strong role in reggae, especially in your music?

Peter Tosh: Well, mon, that is coming from my Father's message chamber, seen? I preach, yes mon, but I do not judge. No man is here to look upon what another man is doing. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I say, make sure your doings are right, so that when the payday comes around, what you get in your envelope will be satisfactory. Ya no seen?

Stephen Davis: Why have so many cultural explosions - reggae, Rastas, dope - come from Jamaica?

Peter Tosh: Because we are the prophets of this Earth. We are they who were executed by Alexander the blood-clot Great and those great pirates who used to go round and chop off the saints' heads. All these things are revealed between the lines through the Third Eye. I & I see ourselves as the reincarnated souls of those carried off into slavery.

Stephen Davis: Are you suprised by the dramatic acceptance of reggae over the last few years?

Peter Tosh: It was prophesied, my brother. Only fools are suprised at the manifestations of prophecy. Seen? Only those who cannot see between the lines will be suprised.

Stephen Davis: What about the future of reggae?

Peter Tosh: Yes mon. Fifteen years from now, there will be a different dispensation of time. The shitstem will no longer be. All the places that are built upon corruption shall be torn down and shall be no more upon the face of creation. Yes mon! Five years from now will be a different age. Five years from blood-clot now will be totally different. No wicked left on the Earth. By 1983 Africa will be free.

Interview (c) Stephen Davis & Reggae International

The above interview appeared in the excellent 1982 book entitled "Reggae International". The book is by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon.