Thu | May 24, 2018

The life of a revolutionary

Published:Sunday | October 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM
An album cover showing a young Bob Marley (left), Peter Tosh (right) and Bunny Wailer.-Contributed

Viewed by many as the uncompromising rebel who challenged the establishment without fear or favour, the announcement of an Order of Merit being conferred on Peter Tosh has been met with detractions from various quarters.

The recognition of Peter Tosh for his work in the field of music, by way of an Order of Merit (OM) - the nation's third highest honour - is most timely.

The conferral, which takes place tomorrow, National Heroes Day, precedes by four days the 68th anniversary of his birth on October 19.

Tosh was, in fact, born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Belmont, Westmoreland, in 1944.

His music and ideas had established for him a reputation of being the most outspoken and uncompromising recording artiste on matters of racial injustices.

Viewed by many as the uncompromising rebel who challenged the establishment without fear or favour, the announcement of an OM being conferred on him has been met with detractions from various quarters.

His recalcitrance in refusing to 'bow' to the 'status quo', and supposedly questionable behaviour may account for the long delay of the award. What, perhaps, could have resulted in high drama may very well have been averted by Tosh's absence, because were he here, he may very well have refused the offer, knowing him.

The revolutionary, no-nonsense, outspoken and anti-establishment singer, has been known in the past to refuse awards and accolades if they did not represent equality and justice and if they had nothing to do with the upliftment of the black race.


Tosh refused to perform in a white-dominated section of apartheid South Africa in 1977, although the financial returns exceeded anything he had previously earned. He claimed he would perform, only if it was for those adversely affected by apartheid and if the benefits thereof were channelled towards their improvement.

On a couple other occasions, he refused awards for his recordings, because of his dissatisfaction with the way it was done.

Tosh's early recordings for Studio One with the Wailers, which included his two friends, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, were foreshadowings of the direction his career would take.

As early as 1965, he co-wrote and performed with the group the antiestablishment song, Rudie, among others, glamorising the rude-boy image. He then declared his hand early with his first solo piece for Studio One, by stating, I'M THE TOUGHEST, because,

Anything you can do, I can do it better, I'm the toughest.

And I can do what you can do, you'll never try to do what I do,

I'm the toughest.

Tosh, in fact, had some three to four compilation albums with the Wailers at Studio One before departing in acrimonious fashion.

Some five years later, Tosh was again hitting at the establishment, this time even harder, with sharp and biting lyrics, as he proclaimed Them Have Fi Get A Beaten:

I can't stand this no longer,

the wicked get stronger.

I can't stand this no longer,

the battle is getting hotter,

them have fi get a beaten.

Don't you wait till you back is against the wall,

just one step to progress and I know Jah will help you all.


The recording, done for producer Joe Gibbs' Pressure Beat record label, was very popular among Jamaicans in the early 1970s. Tosh would record occasional solos for Gibbs and Leslie Kong in the late 1960s, and Lee Perry on his Upsetters label in the early 1970s. Three powerful tracks for Perry - namely, 400 Years, which was an attack against slavery, No Sympathy, and Downpresser Man, further penetrated his attack on the established system.

Together with the group, and separately as a solo artiste, Tosh charted a path that would cover a wide range of topics, the most prominent of them being his songs about equality and justice, and the fight against apartheid. Perhaps at no other time are these tenets more applicable than in this Heritage Week, and as a 50-year-old nation, when we think about what we have achieved as a nation in our quest for real equality and justice. There isn't really much we can show in this respect.

Sometime between 1971 and 1972, Tosh, along with the Wailers, parted company with Perry's Upsetter label and signed an agreement with Island Records' boss Chris Blackwell. He recorded two albums with the group for Island - Catch A Fire and Burning - before severing relations with them (the group and the label) in 1974 for a solo career, exiting with his anthemic:

Get up, stand up, stand up for your right,

Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight.

The recording, co-written and sung by Tosh, became an international freedom anthem as well as the anthem for Amnesty International.

Upon leaving Island Records, Tosh started his own record label and enterprise, Intel Diplo H.I.M. (short for Intelligent Diplomat for His Imperial Majesty).

Using his own band named Word, Sound and Power, Tosh recorded his first two albums, Equal Rights (1976), in which he declared "I don't want no peace, I need equal rights and justice" and Legalise It (1977), a constant plea both in words and deeds to legalise marijuana. They achieved certified platinum and gold status, respectively. His exhortation to 'Light up yu spliff/Light up yu chalice/Let we smoke it inna Buckingham Palace', in the recording Buckingham Palace, was a clear indication of the extent to which Tosh would take his advocacy for the legalisation of marijuana.

Tosh smoked marijuana openly, and exhibited a brash attitude in protests against Ian Smith's apartheid regime at home and abroad, resulting in several arrests and beatings.

In 1978 Tosh had collaborative efforts with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, which produced the albums Bush Doctor (1978), Mystic Man (1979, and Wanted Dread and Alive (1981).

Moving to EMI records, he did his last two albums - Mama Africa and No Nuclear War, which earned a posthumous Grammy Award in 1988. One year earlier, on September 11 to be exact, Tosh was killed at his home. He was 38 days short of his 43rd birthday.

Tosh's recognition with an OM is well deserved and he will be remembered in a star-studded concert on Thursday at the Pulse Centre, Studio 38, beginning at 8.30 p.m.