Peter Tosh chants down peace
Sheldon Reid, Guest Columnist
In an interview conducted just after his final concert in December 1983, and which was published in Pulse Magazine in June 1984, Peter Tosh asserted: "I a look fe peace. Because, to me, peace should have really meant people respecting people, people loving people. A man becoming his brother's keeper. A man can lef him door open an go bout him business an a nex man don't come pop it off. Is so me call peace."
Tosh wittily elaborated his view of peace: "Every time I see peace, you know where I see it? In the cemetery: 'Here lies the body of such and such. May he rest in peace.' Yu see most intellectual people in society tink di word peace means comin togeda. Peace is di diploma yu get in di cemetery, an I know many a you likkle brothers woodn like to hear yu dawters say she's goin give a little 'piece' a bongo clippins, yu no seen. So yu can imagine how defective 'peace' is. Seen."
Peter Tosh was much more of a pragmatist and social philanthropist in his own right than many of our politicians today. He recognised that peace can never be achieved as long as there is inequality and injustice. In his song Equal Rights, Peter Tosh declares: "Everyone is crying out for peace, none is crying out for justice. I don't want no peace, I need equal rights and justice."
Tosh seems to be suggesting, with his persistent chants for equal rights and justice, that peace will never exist until the demands of justice are met. This is because peace seems to maintain a hegemony that consists of injustice and inequality. Peace is seen as an order that benefits the upper class.
Definition of peace
Peace ensures that the aristocrats will continue to sit on their pedestals which rest on the shoulders of the poor. The status quo is never threatened. The Oxford English Dictionary defines peace as 'freedom from trouble, war'. This definition contrasts with Tosh's representation of peace. His views raise more profound philosophical issues about peace. Is peace really just freedom from trouble or war? Or is peace, ultimately, the outcome of equal rights and justice? Indeed, equal rights and justice are essential ingredients if one wishes to have a society free from trouble or war. Ironically, peace becomes the cause of war.
Essentially, Tosh's refusal to accept peace in his advocacy for equal rights and justice acts as a challenge to the dictates of our hegemonic society. It is a metaphorical refusal of the ideology of passivity.
Perhaps his refusal of 'certain' ideologies is more 'heartily' expressed when he says, "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die." He uses this proverbial statement to mock those optimists who believe that peace will somehow be obtained without the basic human rights of equality and justice. Unfortunately, these basic rights are not so basic.
Indeed, it is impossible to go to heaven unless we die. Yet, despite our aspirations to dwell in the kingdom of heaven, we fear death. Similarly, Tosh ridicules our irrationality in wanting peace while being unwilling to abolish the hierarchical structures that prevent it.
Christianity also does not escape the Marxist cynicism in Tosh's use of the proverbial statement. Karl Marx argued that "religion is the opiate of the people". This is, indeed, true, as religion offers temporary escape from the slum and garrison realities of the masses, with a small dosage of 'hope'.
In his quest for equal rights and justice, Tosh declares: "Just give me my share, what is due to Caesar you better give unto Caesar, and what belong to I and I, you better give I and I." This statement implies that Tosh believes that he is owed something, he is being denied something that is rightfully his. Of course, the obvious that comes to mind is equal rights and justice.
However, knowing how much Tosh played with double meanings in his lyrics, I wonder if the assertion 'what belong to I and I' is a reference to the reparations that should be paid by the European colonisers who used enslaved labour to enrich their coffers. The command, 'you better', suggests that there will be negative consequences if there is no compliance. Again, no equal rights and justice; no peace!
Furthermore, Caesar was due respect because of his greatness as a leader. But he was also destined to receive daggers from Brutus because of that very 'greatness'. The distinction Tosh makes between 'I and I' and Caesar is, perhaps, indicative of the distinction between the poor and the rich. The clear implication is that if you give I and I, the people, the equal rights and justice that we are due, then we will give Caesar, the elites, due respect and peace. But if not, then Caesar will receive daggers.
Tosh wittily turns the tables and asks us to question, "Who are the criminals?" Are the criminals those who kill and rob because of lack of equal rights and justice? Or are the criminals those who kill to maintain 'peace' - a system or structure that perpetuates inequality and injustice?
Tosh observes, "Everybody fighting to reach the top." Then he asks a profound question: "How far is it from the bottom?" Indeed, the borders that separate the top from the bottom, uptown from downtown are as fragile as egg shells. The top is not really far from the bottom when lack of equal rights and justice results in a 'crab inna barrel society'. Undoubtedly, Tosh's advocacy in 1977 of equal rights and justice as the only way to obtain genuine peace is the solution to the problems in today's society that is so torn apart by wars and rumours of wars.
'Who is Tosh?'
Tosh is not posh
He is not your Dockers khaki or
Your petit ankle socks
He is your favourite pair of ripped denim jeans
Wid you old brown leather wallabe Clarks
Tosh is not yu tuxedo an tie guy
He is the mesh merino rebel wear style
For some reason a mug with hot coffee in di early mawning
comes to mind
Perhaps wid some tuff crackers
pon di side
Tosh is Dung Town, August Town and Tree Miles
Zinc fence and demonstrations
Tosh a di artiste weh mi Rasta uncle Billy use to rock
An wen mama seh, "Tun it dung!"
Him turn it up a notch
For Tosh is not how you behave
Tosh a how yu gwaan
He is locks, he is marijuana smoke
Tosh is di black sheep's resistance to the status quo
Tosh is not Sangster's or Baileys international rum cream
Tosh is white rum and Irish Moss
He is the things Jamaican that are Jamaican
The things found in the archives
Tosh is that part of our culture forever immortalised.
Sheldon Reid is a final-year undergraduate student in the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, Mona. This article was the basis of a presentation given at the Peter Tosh symposium held at UWI in October 2010.