Inter Press Service English News Wire Article
September 21, 2002
by Howard Campbell

KINGSTON, Sep. 20 (IPS) — September 11 will go down as one of the most tragic days in history after last year’s attack on New York and Washington. For the family and fans of reggae singer Peter Tosh, it also marks a time of mourning because on that date 15 years ago gunmen murdered Tosh at his home in Jamaica’s capital. But even as the controversial Rastafarian singer-songwriter’s work is enjoying a rebirth internationally, organizers of the annual Peter Tosh Symposium at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Tribute To Peter Tosh concert in Negril town, say that his legacy is still being ignored in his homeland. Both events were launched Sep 11 in Kingston, and promoters used the occasion to direct a scathing attack at radio stations and journalists who they say have done little to promote Tosh’s legacy.

“I cannot go to the Gleaner (Jamaica’s leading daily newspaper) or the successor to the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (a defunct television station) and get archival material on Bob Marley or Tosh,” said Clinton Hutton, head of the department of government at the U.W.I.’s Mona campus. “These people are central figures in Jamaica after independence,” he added. Hutton’s charge is supported by Worrel King, a music industry veteran who launched the tribute concert in 1992 and helped initiate the symposium, which debuted in 2001. King criticised local radio stations for not playing Tosh’s music, even though they were presented with copies of his 12 solo albums at last year’s event. “They said they could not play his music because they didn’t have the albums, so we gave them,” said King. “But we’re still not hearing Tosh,” he added. “(We’re) still hearing garbage.”

The singer recorded for three major record labels (Columbia, EMI and Capitol) during his solo career. Yet, his songs have never been as accessible as those of Marley, his former colleague in The Wailers. Last year, through Tosh’s revived company, Intel Diplo, the albums were made available to local stores and radio stations but King says there has been little change on the airwaves since.

Jennifer Lyons, head librarian at Radio Jamaica, says the station does not neglect to play the musician. “We make it a point to play Tosh but not a lot because we cater to demand,” she said. “A lot of other artists are popular now so we do play them.” Junior Chung, program director at the all-reggae Irie FM, says the station does not discriminate against Tosh. “We play a good amount of Tosh, not as much as Marley, but we play Peter a lot because listeners like him,” Chung explained.

The music of Peter Tosh has never been radio-friendly. In the late 1960s, he co-wrote the powerful black power anthem, “Get Up, Stand Up” with Marley, and throughout the 1970s, his hard-hitting songs like “Legalize It”, “Equal Rights” and “Burial” were unofficially banned from the airwaves. While Marley at times changed gear and appealed to the mainstream with ballads like “Waiting In Vain” and “Turn Your Lights Down Low”, Tosh was consistently critical of Jamaica’s colored middle class, which he accused of holding down the country’s black majority.

At the April 1978 One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, Tosh stole the show by blasting Jamaica’s political and civic leaders, who were in the audience, blaming them for the civil war that had claimed hundreds of lives since the 1972 general elections. He also called on the government to legalize marijuana, regarded as a religious sacrament in the Rastafarian religion, whose members practice a holistic naturalness known as I-tal and wear their hair in dreadlocks.

Five months after the concert, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and reportedly beaten for 90 minutes. But even as Tosh continues to get the cold shoulder from his countrymen, overseas his flame continues to burn. In 1999, Legacy Records, the reissue arm of Columbia Records, released the three CD “Honorary Citizen”, which covered the musician’s 25-year career. The following year, the label reissued “Legalize It” and “Equal Rights”, two of Tosh’s most acclaimed albums. This year’s Peter Tosh Symposium will be held Oct. 11 at the U.W.I.’s Mona campus while the tribute show takes place Oct. 19 in Negril in Westmoreland parish, where Tosh was born.