Tue | Oct 23, 2018

A new relevance for the legacy of Peter Tosh

Published:Thursday | September 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Peter Tosh
Much of Peter Tosh's creative genius was first aroused by musical instruments at this New Testament Church of God in Belmont, Westmoreland, where Tosh's mom, Vera Cooke, was a member for 55 years.
A glimpse of the Peter Tosh Memorial Garden in Belmont, Westmoreland. Peter Tosh's family has plans to convert the five-acre property into Peter Tosh Town.
Peter Tosh's son, Steve McIntosh (right), visits his dad's first school, the Savanna-la-Mar Infant School, now celebrating 100 years. With him are (from left) Hopeton 'Tuffis' Green, tour guide and longtime friend of Peter Tosh; Mrs Witter-Williams, acting principal; and Ms McIntosh, a teacher at the school. Photo by Dave Rodney

Dave Rodney, Contributor

Today marks 27 years since the world lost reggae icon Peter Tosh. The extraordinarily gifted, trailblazing and revolutionary artiste, who was once a member of the globally idolised Wailers, was brutally murdered at his Barbican Road residence in Kingston. In early September 1987, Tosh had returned to the island from a business trip in the United States, and he was at home entertaining a few close friends when the tranquility of the September night was shattered by three intruders who robbed the guests, then savagely shot and killed the reggae legend, silencing one of the most powerful voices reggae had ever seen. Two other friends of Tosh, were also shot and killed on that tragic night - popular radio disc jockey Jeff Dixon, aka Free I, and Wilton Brown. The murders were quickly solved, and it turned out that the mastermind was an acquaintance of Tosh, one Dennis 'Leppo' Lobban who is currently doing a life sentence at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston.

Fast forward to 2014, and Peter Tosh has grown phenomenally in stature around the world, as several new generations of music lovers, Rastafarians, political activists and assorted admirers have continued to embrace his music, his teachings and his philosophy. The fearless musical prodigy who was born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Grange Hill, Westmoreland, has won literally hundreds of awards posthumously. And with current conversations in social, political and legislative circles around the world focused on the decriminalisation of ganja, the legacy of Peter Tosh has found urgent new relevance and looms larger than ever. Only a few weeks ago, Tosh received yet another posthumous award, this time from the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica, for his 'courageous, outspoken and uncompromising advocacy for the legalisation of ganja, through the global promotion of his timeless classics Legalize It and Buckingham Palace.

Buzz about late singer

"There is a huge buzz that has been turned on like a light switch on the legacy of my dad, and with each passing day, the buzz gets louder and louder." Steve McIntosh, one of Tosh's sons told The Gleaner. Steve is based at the Peter Tosh Memorial Garden, an alluring and impeccably maintained five-acre property in Belmont, Westmoreland. The property was once the country home of Tosh for many years before his passing, and today it represents a retrospective journey through the Westmoreland world of the late reggae superstar. The historian and tour guide is Hopeton 'Tuffis' Green, and he has been a friend of Tosh since 1968 when they first met in Kingston's music cradle of Trench Town.

A beautifully embellished undercroft in bright Rasta colors housing the remains of Tosh is the main attraction on the estate. But there is a lot more to see. Steve points out that there is a hugely successful annual concert in memory of his father that takes place on the property each February for Black History Month. Tuffis then takes us to a nearby beach across the street from the property to see where Tosh used to go swimming and spearfishing. A resident wood-carver, Ian Roach, creates works from lignum vitae and cedar grown in the area. We taste sweet naseberries from Tosh's favourite tree nearby the undercroft, and visitors can view ackee, mangoes, june plum, pimento and coffee in full bloom before being served a specially prepared delicious ital meal cooked by Rosemarie Cooke, a longtime family friend. Although the Peter Tosh Memorial Garden is not yet open to the public on a regular basis, tour buses on the south coast run pull up daily to the gate for quick photo opportunities.

To make the Peter Tosh Westmoreland day complete, we journey for a few miles to the Savanna-la-Mar Infant School to visit the first school Tosh attended. The acting principal, Mrs Witter Williams, and her staff are surprised to see us, but they welcome us warmly, especially since the school is celebrating 100 years of operation this year. We make one last stop at the New Testament Church of God in Belmont, where musical instruments of praise and worship first excited Tosh's creative vision and where his mom, Vera Cooke, was an ardent and faithful member until her passing in November last year.

The demand for access to the property from locals as well as from tourists is clearly growing and tour companies are sending in regular queries about future plans for the property. "The family is in the process of developing an exciting new promotional master plan for the Peter Tosh legacy in Westmoreland," Steve McIntosh revealed. And his sister, Niambe McIntosh, who is administrator of the Peter Tosh Estate, added, "Plans are in motion to convert the Belmont property into Peter Tosh Town, and we are also working to have the site recognised as a national heritage landmark in Jamaica in due course."