The Music Diaries | 40th anniversary of '78 One Love concert
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the One Love Peace Concert, which took place at the National Stadium on Saturday April 22, 1978. It was an evening like none other when the fate of a nation embroiled in political turmoil seemed to be resting on the success of the concert.
The concert was at first conceived as a welcome-home party for Bob Marley, who was returning from self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom (UK), where he had gone to 'cool out' after a close shave with his life at a similar concert at Heroes Circle in 1976. In a recent interview I did with noted show promoter, record producer, and vocalist Tommy Cowan, he elaborated: "I got a call from noted area leader Claudie Massop, who was in England at the time, saying that Bob was coming home and it would be good if I would consider putting on a concert, and he would talk to Bob about it. Bob eventually spoke to me. He came home, and while we were speaking about the concert in the office at Hope Road, the whole thing developed through Bob, myself and Diane Jobson (Bob's lawyer) that we should make it a peace concert to bring the youth together in unity. We eventually decided that we would call it 'The One Love Peace Concert'."
The idea on putting on a peace concert was born out of an initiative to quell an ongoing feud between warring political factions that so far had claimed some 2,000 lives since the beginning of the decade. General elections in 1972 and 1976 were blamed, to a large extent, for the escalating murder rate.
Timed to coincide with the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the visit of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I Emperor of Ethiopia to Jamaica from April 21-23, 1966, the concert has gone down in history as one of the most momentous occasions in Jamaica's history. Brim full with drama and action from beginning to end, the start was like a rocket launch, which saw Tommy Cowan doing a countdown - 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 - exactly to show time at 5 p.m., perhaps the first and only instance of this occurring in Jamaica's entertainment history.
According to Cowan, that was followed by opening prayers. Through his company, Talent Corporation, Cowan found it easy to organise and get the consent of artistes to perform free of charge. The proceeds (Bleachers $2, Grandstand $5, VIP $8) would go towards the peace movement.
First on stage was the Meditations, one of several acts who were not originally billed for the show but were allowed to perform after signalling an interest. According to award-winning photographer Howard Moo Young, "The Meditations were followed by Althea and Donna belting out their No. 1 hit, Uptown Top Ranking. Dub poet Oku Onoura took to the stage, and with the crowd growling, the anticipation of what was to take place that night could be felt resonating throughout the audience."
Other performances followed from Junior Tucker, Culture, Dennis Brown, The Mighty Diamonds, Leroy Smart, Jacob Miller and the Inner Circle Band, Beres Hammond and the Zap Pow band, Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, Big Youth, Lloyd Parkes and the We The People Band, with MCs Neville Willoughby and Errol Thompson in attendance.
Then came a moment of high drama when Peter Tosh, after delivering a moving set, unleashed a barrage of expletives, denouncing the status quo for injustices meted out to society. And as if to add insult to injury, he promptly pulled out a long ganja spliff and lit it on stage in the presence of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, members of Parliament, the commissioner of police, chief of staff, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and overseas journalists. A full moon overhead stood still, and so did the security forces. Not a man moved.
The audience had barely recovered from the shock when the main attraction, Bob Marley, during his performance, called Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga on stage. Nobody knew what was happening until Marley held their hands aloft and joined them together as a symbolic truce and an example to be embraced by their followers. Moments before, streaks of lightning accompanied one of Marley's spiritual ecstatic utterances.
Moo Young's graphic photos of the event add to the story what a thousand words would have told. Moo Young, who designed the poster and did all the creative work for the show, claims that they are the only colour photographs taken at the concert, and they form an iconic world collection. According to Moo Young, 'the prayer for peace' photo, which depicts Marley clasping his hands, is the only picture of that type available anywhere in the world.