"'mystic Man' Tosh revealed at Miami symposium"

30 Nov "'mystic Man' Tosh revealed at Miami symposium"

November 30, 2003
Caribbean Today
by Gordon Williams, Managing Editor

The life and times of Peter Tosh, one of the Caribbean’s most outspoken and controversial figures, was the focus of a recent symposium held at Florida International University (FIU) as part of a tribute to the late reggae star.

The symposium, titled “His Life and Legacy”, culminated a series of events- including a birthday bash and musical tribute, video and film festival.

However, the late cancellation of the crowning event, the Tosh Tribute Concert which was scheduled for Bayfront Park in Miami on Oct. 26, provided a huge letdown to what was an interesting review of the man who called himself many things – including “Mystic Man”, “Bush Doctor” and “Stepping
Razor” – but whose legacy is rooted in his relentless struggle for equal rights and justice everywhere.

The panel for the symposium, hosted by FIU’s African New World Studies Department and the Association of Africans Reclaiming Identity (TAFARI) in collaboration with King of Kings Promotions and Rootz Reggae & Kulcha Magazine, offered an intriguing mix: Jamaica’s Finance Minister Dr. Omar
Davies; Tosh’s former road manager Copeland Forbes; University of the West Indies lecturer Dr. Clinton Hutton; and I. Jabulani Tafari, publisher of Rootz Magazine.

Hutton, who is currently editing a book on Tosh, examined the poetics of his music, including its art and style, and the way Tosh weaved, constructed and choreographed words and music “to tell his story, our story.” Hutton praised Tosh’s “creative brilliance,” which he used to lure the listener, and his use of language, imagery, dialogue and old-time sayings.


Tafari, who first met Tosh in the mid-1970s, called him “a word scientist” who “knew the power of words and was a master manipulator of words as a lyricist” who suffered brutal physical punishment from law enforcement officers in Jamaica.

His presentation laid the groundwork for Davies, who said he has spent considerable time collecting and researching Jamaican music. Davies identified several specific areas he said are covered by Tosh’s music, including social issues, self assertion, philosophies of life, love, praise, freedom fighting, Pan Africanism, and anger and frustration.

“Tosh was an entertainer, but he transcended entertainment and was an educator,” Davies said. “….He combined social consciousness, but was still able to package it into his music.”

Davies, who called himself a “student and a fan of Peter Tosh,” even wondered aloud how he, a part of the establishment, could be in support of Tosh, a radical messenger who was bent on dismantling the control that the establishment had on the poor. But Davies also acknowledged Tosh’s influence.

“He forced the establishment to respond,” the minister said.


However, the most animated responses from the symposium’s audience came during Forbes’s presentation. Forbes, using a string of anecdotes, some laced with humor, offered the clearest personal insight of what Peter Tosh was about, including his insistence on not compromising his music or ideals and the tardiness of the establishment in granting him due respect.

“I still think (Tosh) has not been rewarded in the way he should be rewarded,” Forbes said.

Those “rewards”, he explained, included not just recognition as an artiste, but also wealth – money and artifacts – from Tosh’s estate, which he said was still not being directed to the proper channels.

“Where is all the money?” Forbes asked, as he recalled the frustration of Tosh’s family in trying to find paint to spruce up his burial site in Jamaica. “I have here documents to prove that monies are out there for this icon (Tosh) and we don’t have to be scrambling for money to buy paint. …Somebody should be accountable. … I know that there is money (for Tosh) all over the place.”

Forbes recalled significant events in the life of the musician, including a lighthearted tale of how Tosh and rock legend Mick Jagger settled a long standing personal feud and Tosh’s radical stand during a concert in Africa when he refused to perform unless the promoters let everyone into the venue.

Peter Tosh was a founding member of the Wailing Wailers, along with Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston. The Wailers was one of the first groups to introduce reggae to the world. Marley died from cancer in 1981. Tosh was murdered on Sept. 11, 1987 by gunmen who invaded his home in Jamaica. His album “No Nuclear War” received a Grammy award the following year.