Fri | Mar 22, 2019

Story of the Song | Stepping Razor slashed with One Love Concert speech

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Peter Tosh
Peter Tosh

In the posthumous 2000 Peter Tosh album Live at the One Love Peace Concert, spoken words are listed in three places. The 40-second track four is named Intro Rap, and track five is the combination Burial/Speech, timed at 12 minutes and 17 seconds. In between Equal Rights and the closing Legalise It/Get Up, Stand Up is simply Speech.

At the time when Tosh delivered that seven minutes and 22 seconds of blistering, humorous, and insightful commentary on Jamaican society, in particular its shortcomings and class imbalances ("every time me go a jail a pure poor people me see"), current director-curator of the Jamaica Music Museum (JaMM) Herbie Miller was his personal manager. He also transcribed the speech and was involved in writing the liner notes for the JAD Records release 22 years later.

If not for engineer Karl Pitterson, who was at the mixing board and who ran a feed of Tosh's performance to a cassette, it is possible that the entire performance would have been lost as Tosh warned the film crews present about the bright lights in his eyes and securing his rights.


Lengthy speeches


Miller says that the speech was not a part of the rehearsals, and although Tosh subsequently became known for speaking at length during his performances, "Peter was not known for making speeches from the stage at that point. He was more a singer-guitarist than a singer-performer. He was not known to let go the guitar, lime Bob, and start dancing on stage. That happened after signing with the Rolling Stones and picking up showmanship and presenting it in his way."

"Robbie (Shakespeare) and I encouraged him to move away from the wah-wah pedal," Miller said, also identifying Robbie as the musician who would communicate most with Tosh during performances, including messages from Miller and the other band members. In that light, Miller said he would be surprised if it was not Robbie who suggested that Tosh speak to the audience. "I think that what came out surprised us all," Miller said.

Taken in its entirety, Miller said Tosh's performance was "so dynamic. because he performed with a level of musicianship, each song tied in with a narrative that tied right back into the song. He addressed the country's economy, at the time going through the social experiment; the presence in Jamaica at the time of certain persons thought to be CIA operatives; the demands on Jamaica by Washington, especially how Jamaica should behave in terms of marijuana. He spoke about the medicinal and spiritual properties of the herb; he spoke about history Penn, Venables, Morgan, Columbus, what they represented; he spoke about the whole sociology of the country. There was a good sense of humour to a very serious lecture."

However, "people have it to say he cussed up a whole heap of bad wud," Miller said, noting that there were very, very few although when Tosh said things like "rastacastle" the audience members felt the impact. As for the audience's reaction, Miller said many persons did not know what to make of the speech, not least of all because there were many persons including high-ranging state officials present who would not have attended if it was a concert without such national impact that then Opposition leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley were present.

"But then and you can hear it on the tape there were those hearing him, and they understood precisely the sentiments he was expressing," Miller said.

When Tosh came off the stage, Miller does not recall any criticism, and the singer was certainly happy. "I think he said 'God cry'," Miller said. "That was his way to say them feel it."

There was someone in the audience who realised Tosh's impact and what it mean for Bob Marley. Miller said "I was told by Ruggles, a Rastaman close to the Mortimer Planno camp, that Planno sent him to Bob's dressing room with a message: the only thing you can do to match Peter Tosh's performance is to bring Seaga and Manley on stage. I know that there are those who say what Bob did was spontaneous. I do not know," Miller said.

He is disappointed that the photograph of Marley, Seaga, and Manley on stage has become the One Love Peace Concert's lasting symbol rather than the political leaders, after being called on stage, then going on to act on Tosh's speech, which was "a mandate to go and do what the people want. It is not a full stop. Aluta continua, the struggle continues".