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Tales, text of Tosh 2014 symposium held at UWI

Published:Wednesday | October 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Peter Tosh
Dr Clinton Hutton speaks at the 2014 Peter Tosh Symposium, held at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on Monday evening. Photos by Mel Cooke
Taitu Heron
Miguel Lorne
History Man performs at Monday evening's Peter Tosh symposium, held at UWI, Mona.
Evah Gordon

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

There were two distinct sides to Tuesday's 2014 Peter Tosh Symposium, held in the Multifunctional Room of the Main Library, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Titled 'Peter Tosh - Protagonist, Activist, and Pan-Africanist: A Focus on the Man, The Music, The Message and the Herb', the academic probing of most of the stated areas came from the first two presenters, Dr Clinton Hutton and Taitu Heron. Miguel Lorne, attorney-at-law, and Evah Gordon focused heavily on the man, relating incidents from their personal interaction with the late singer.

The four panellists presented after the film PUPT (Peeta Uppa Pan Tap), done by Kareen Karim, was shown, Dr Michael Barnett of the university's Department of Psychology, Sociology and Social Work hosting the symposium. The Informative History Man delivered a piece on Tosh, as well as African inventors.

As Gordon pointed out during his extensive closing presentation, Tosh (who was murdered on September 11, 1987) was not around to defend himself, hence verifying the interaction in especially Gordon's presentation was entirely up to trust - and there was a lot to take on sheer faith.

Pausing to choose his words carefully, Gordon said, "I did not feel any remorse from Peter about Bob's death." According to Gordon, the rift went as far as Tosh changing the radio station when they were riding in a car and a Bob Marley song was being played. "Peter did not listen to Bob," Gordon said.

No respect from Bob

The source of Tosh's discontent was that although he was the one who taught Bob to play music, he did not show Peter any respect.

Marlene, Peter's girlfriend, came up for mention several times in Gordon's presentation and in none-too-flattering terms. He confessed to having a David and Uriah moment with Marlene when Tosh was away on tour. "It happens to the best of us. Looking back, I realise how wrong I was," said Gordon, who is writing a book on Tosh, on the affaire.

Former Tosh managers Herbie Miller (who attended the symposium) and Copeland Forbes also came up for mention by Gordon, including the management transition.

At the other end of the symposium's spectrum, in the beginning, Hutton spoke about Tosh's focus on "African freedom, sovereignty, and justice as central to his identity and the identity of all Africans". Supporting his points with quotes from Tosh, Hutton spoke about the late singer's campaign to legalise ganja "as central to his views about justice, as well as his personal encounters with law enforcement and the Jamaican state".

Hutton informed the substantial audience that for the authorities, the social unrest of 1938 was the result of smoking ganja and the laws against the plant were, from the beginning, targeted at people categorised as deviant, social undesirables, the unwashed, and the uncivilised.

"Similarly, the Morant Bay War of 1865 was blamed on social undesirables who smoked as a form of worship, who danced as a form of worship, and who prayed out loud and ate and drank as invocation," Hutton said.

So, Hutton said, "Peter Tosh understood the biases in the Jamaican ganja laws." However, these biases never became a political issue for the two major parties, although it was a persistent theme in music. Hutton looked at Tosh's Whatcha Gonna Do and Nah Go a Jail, Tosh's lyrics referring to receiving a spliff from a minister. "And let us make it clear: There were and are ministers in Jamaica who smoke ganja. And prime ministers," Hutton said.

He noted that Tosh was not alone in the campaign, singing out songs by Marley (Rebel Music), Culture (International Herb), and Sugar Minott (Oh Mr DC).

Heron credited Yanique Hume, co-author of the 2012 Caribbean Quarterly article Stepping Out: Peter Tosh and the Dynamics of Afro-Caribbean Existence at the start of her presentation, which focused on Tosh's word works in the context of Anti-African Existence, with a prevailing climate of resistance to African sensibilities.

From the point of persons being transported to the region, Heron said, "By the time we get to a Peter Tosh a couple centuries later, colonisation had done a pretty good job."

Although her presentation was affected by technical difficulties, Heron substantiated her arguments with material from Tosh, including You Can't Fool Me Again and Cold Blood, which begins with a courthouse swearing-in in which Tosh refuses to say 'So help me God', instead saying 'So help I Jah'. Heron said Tosh experienced existential victimisation every time he had an encounter with Babylon, a situation he just could not accept. There was extensive reference to his speech at the One Love Peace Concert.

African identity

Heron pointed out that Tosh's identity as an African - this in an Anti-African Existence - was not only claimed, but also put forward for others to know, a clip from African supporting this. Stop That Train was one of the songs close to the end of her presentation.

Lorne described Tosh as a djeli, one with the responsibility of keeping memory, preserving beliefs and community wisdom. "Peter's journey is a reflection of the journey of Rastafari, the black struggle in Jamaica and the journey of our people," Lorne said.

He spoke about meeting Tosh when his law office was at 3 Duke Street in front of a building society's offices. Tosh complained that he has name but no fame as he had been notified about a mortgage being four months in arrears. Tosh (who had just returned from a tour that broke even) felt that if he had fame, he would not have been so notified.

Lorne spoke extensively of Tosh and radio presenter Free-I's deaths in the context of an intended radio station acquisition, as well as the level of staging that went into the famed One Love Peace Concert, including Marley bringing on Edward Seaga and Michael Manley to shake hands publicly. Tosh was the only one who went off script with his famed speech, and "a few weeks later, Peter got a proper beating."

With a spliff involved in that incident, Lorne made a connection with the beating of Mario Deane in Montego Bay this year. "Peter got beaten for that. Mario Deane got his death," Lorne said.

Later on in the symposium, Gordon raised possible international circumstances leading to Tosh's murder. He also spoke about going to a nyahbinghi in Bull Bay, and, at 3 a.m., "they were beating down Peter, saying that he should die. Shortly after, Peter was killed".