Story of the Song | African experiences lead to Tosh songs
With Peter Tosh's birthday being celebrated on Thursday, October 19, on Friday, a symposium was slated for the University of the West Indies and yesterday was the date for the 2017 Peter Tosh Music Festival. In 2011, the symposium was titled 'Peter Tosh: Activist, Protagonist and Musical Genius: One of Jamaica's Unsung Heroes'. Copeland Forbes gave first-hand insight into the creation of some of Tosh's songs.
On a trip to Africa, Tosh and Forbes went to Benin and visited a bush doctor (Tosh also dubbed himself the Bush Doctor, the title of his 1978 album). Forbes said that the man told Tosh that while some believed that he was a madman, he was a great, intelligent man. "But you have some poison in your head that you need to get out. Apart from that, you are one of the most intelligent men on the earth," Forbes said the bush doctor told Tosh.
Forbes remarked how Tosh could store information, including his lyrics, before recording them, saying, "that little head of his stored a lot of things." There was laughter when Forbes said Tosh would write a few words on a sheet of paper, then there would be a lot of space, then another few words. When he asked Tosh about the approach, he replied that there were pirates around who would steal the lyrics.
On that Benin trip, they went to the river, Tosh doing one of his favourite things fishing, while Forbes went upriver. There, he saw a man defecating in the water and went back to tell Tosh to throw away all the fish he had caught. Tosh demanded to know why, and Forbes carried him back to where the man was still relieving himself.
After a 'bongo clippings' from Tosh, Forbes said, he immediately came up with the lines:
"Africa is the richest place
But it has the poorest race
And to me it's just a disgrace
Just a disgrace"
"He kept singing that song as we were driving in the Range Rover," Forbes said. the song (Not Gonna Give It Up) was ready by the time they got back to the bungalow where they were staying.
Glass House was written in the same period, Tosh remarking to Forbes, "you know if you live in a glass house you can't throw stone?" Forbes said that he replied, "yeah because people will see you and throw back." And Tosh wrote the song while a funeral was being held for someone elsewhere in the community.
The story of Crystal Ball, in which Tosh sings of destruction and social upheaval ("I see youths rising/Blood running/Fire burning") had the audience laughing in parts. It involved an apparently fraudulent mystic man in Nigeria who attempted to charge them 60,000 lira for him to look at their future through his crystal ball. At the time, Forbes said that he and Tosh had carried US$10,000 for their four-week trip.
As it was very expensive, they left, saying that they were going to the record company's offices, but the man ran after them, urging that they return. They did, and Forbes said the man left the room then "came back with these three crystal balls that start spinning". Then, he said, "it is not good day to go to record company."
They went anyway and found the renowned musician they were looking for, King Sunny Ade, there. Ade dismissed the crystal ball man, demanding, at that price, "what is he going to do? make a human being?"
Still, Forbes said, "the crystal ball experience never left me."
Three days later, they were driving quickly on the highway, himself, Tosh, and a driver in one vehicle in front and Ade in another, following. At 180kph, Forbes said, he heard a loud sound from underneath the van. "Peter say, 'Jah Jah!'," Forbes recalled.
Forbes's first thought was that they were under attack from snipers, so when the van stopped, he came out and ran into the bushes, bloody knees and all. Tosh came out and looked at the vehicle then said, "remember what the crystal ball say? Explosion. See it ya."
It turned out that two tyres had blown out.