By Herbie Miller—
Although so many have been dismayed at the fact that Peter Tosh has until now never been honoured by Jamaica, there are others who are livid that the outspoken revolutionary singer/musician has been recently named to receive the highest civilian commendation this country offers, the Order of Merit. And yet, I am bemused to think how Mr Tosh would have responded were he here.
The ultimate anti-establishment figure, Peter Peter was wont to shun hierarchy, hegemony and governmental appease if it did not represent the equity, truth and rights he envisioned for the everyman. Keep in mind that as much as Tosh accepted an invitation and attended a summit hosted by the late Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, when greeted as “comrade”, Tosh quickly quipped, “I man don’t come red, I come Black”, making it clear he was not one of them. I have seen him refuse to accept a gold record in Holland, emblematic of his achievements, because he was dissatisfied with the circumstances under which it was presented and what he considered Dutch colonialism in the Antilles.
The fact that a gold record signifies extraordinary sales figures meant nothing to him, Peter was more interested in the symbolism associated with how the presentation was made. That was also the case when approached in 1977 to perform in apartheid South Africa’s Graceland for more money than he had earned in his life at the time.
He would perform in South Africa, he told those who brought the offer, but he was not interested in Graceland, he would accept the offer only if it were arranged for him to appear for Blacks in Soweto and the Townships, and to give his earnings to the African National Congress and the sports club associated with Steve Bicko.
Needless to say, after half a dozen attempts, each time offering a higher fee, the prominent beer company that made the offer got the message: Tosh would not budge unless the performance were for those subjugated by and fighting against apartheid.
As far as Tosh accepting the Order of Mertit is concerned, however, for the moment that is for contemplating.
As for Tosh’s naysayers who are of the opinion that he should not be awarded with an OM, they should be reminded that Mr Tosh is not being rewarded for anything else but his artistry and how effectively through his art he has influenced the world to become a better place.
How he has elevated Jamaica internationally in the same way his weed smoking and promoting, militant friend Bob Marley has.
Marley was also a recipient of the OM, even as some of his detractors say; he fathered many children in and out of wedlock and with multiple mothers. According to the Jamaica Information Service’s website, “The Order of Merit is the third highest honour and may be conferred upon any citizen of Jamaica who has achieved eminent international distinction in his or her field of endeavour.”
At no point has it said one’s moral status is being rewarded or considered. Within strict colonial standards neither Peter nor Bob claimed morality, yet neither was as immoral as many public and private individuals who have been and are being honoured around us.
But as the Wailers song Who the Cap Fit, suggests: “If night should turn to day, a lot of people would run a way.”
While some among us decry gestures to acknowledge the outstanding achievements of Mr Tosh because his “behaviour” is questionable, and others believe to award him the OM is “a big mistake”, the bastion of colonialism whose social attitudes we emulate, Britain, has seen it fit to reward its creative achievers in spite of social transgression.
On December 12, 2003, when the anti-establishment rock and roll super star Mick Jagger was knighted for services to music and became Sir Michael Jagger, many were disappointed that he accepted the honour because it contradicted his anti-establishment persona.
Regarding his knighthood, Jagger’s bandmate, drummer Charlie Watts, was quoted in the book according to the Rolling Stones as saying, “Anybody else would be lynched: 18 wives and 20 children and he’s knighted, fantastic!”
The knighthood also infuriated Keith Richards, Jagger’s lifelong friend and Rolling Stone co-founder for accepting the “paltry honour”. Keith further said he did not want to take the stage with someone wearing a “coronet and sporting the old ermine. It’s not what the Stones is about, is it?” Furthermore, when it comes to behaviour, were not The Rolling Stones arrested for assault and obstruction of police in 1972.
SIMILAR STORY TO THE BEATLES
Yet, even as the charges were eventually dropped, Mick Jagger was arrested, mug shot and forced to plead guilty before being released. As well, members of the Stones have been associated with and arrested for so many varieties of drugs just the thought is enough to make most of us high.
The Wailers, the group Tosh co-founded with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, has been compared to the Beatles.
Yet, with the exception of ganja, the Beatles’ story, unlike that of Peter, Bob and Bunny’s is inextricably linked with the use of drugs from “Benzedrine, Preludin and LSD”, to weed and harder drugs – and being arrested for it.
In 1968 John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were arrested for drugs. Paul McCarthy was arrested on arrival in Tokyo in 1980 for possession of marijuana. George Harrison was arrested for possession of 120 joints of marijuana in 1969. And it is alleged that after he and his wife, Patti, were released on bail they attended a party that evening where they offered a spliff to Princess Margaret.
And with all this evidence, the Queen of England, the same Queen that is Jamaica’s, considered it necessary to confer England’s highest honours on members of both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles for what they had done to elevate Britain through their music.Regarding their MBE at Buckingham Palace, John Lennon said: The Beatles smoked marijuana in the bathroom before receiving the Member of the British Empire award from the Queen Elizabeth in 1965. Like Peter Tosh, the Beatles shared the same thinking:
Light yu spliff
Light yu chalice
Mek we bun it inna Buck-in-ham Palace
National Civic Honours and Awards Nomination
Let us have a look at some of the achievements that support Peter Tosh’s belated recognition and reason to be awarded the Order of Merit (Posthumous).
Tosh was granted the keys to the city of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977 for his stance on equal rights for all people.
His composition Creation, a meditation on Psalm 27, was adapted as a hymn and incorporated into the official hymnal of the Jamaican Anglican Church; as a solo performer he was awarded a Grammy Music Award for Best Reggae Album of 1988 for No Nuclear War (1987), a recording that added to the voice of the millions of people clamouring for the disbandment of nuclear armaments.
His classic recordings Legalize It (1976) and Equal Rights (1977) are certified gold and platinum status respectively. He was also awarded a gold record for Bush Doctor (1978). As a Wailer, along with Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, his achievements are also of the highest standard and accolade-filled.
On the group’s Catch a Fire (1973) recording, he contributed organ, guitar, piano, vocals and lyrics. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the recording the 123rd best album of all time in 2003. It was placed in the Grammy Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2009.
On the group’s follow-up recording, Burnin (1973) Tosh contributed guitar, vocals, keyboard and lyrics. Especially notable was his lyrical contribution to the international freedom anthem Get Up, Stand Up.
In 2003 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Burning as the 319th best album of all time and, it was entered into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2006 for its historical and artistic significance.
Peter Tosh’s entrepreneurial role is also notable. He co-founded, along with Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston, the seminal group, The Wailers, in 1964.
He also co-founded Tuff Gong Records in 1970, which became a critical nurturing ground and outlet for reggae music. He nurtured younger and talented musicians, including Mikey Chung, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and sound engineers David Rowe by employing them to his enterprise Intel-Diplo Inc and his Band Word Sound and Power, providing them with guidance and opportunities including artistic and creative freedom.
As an arranger and performer, Tosh contributed to recordings by foreign artists including Eric Gayle, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Manu Debango, Chris Hinze, and Johnny Nash as they explored reggae music. He performed at the pivotal One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978 where, in addition to an unforgettable performance he also gave politicians and all present a lecture in the historical, social and political implications of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism that hampers the growth of the country and people of Jamaica.
Peter Tosh conceived and staged the Youth Consciousness concerts in 1974 to promote awareness of political issues and to discourage partisan violence among Jamaican youth. He became an important member of the influential MUSE Group (Musicians United For Safe Energy), and performed at the No Nukes Concerts Series of 1979 in the United States, an event endorsing the end of nuclear build-up. At a time when most artistes had no knowledge of the system of apartheid or the meaning of the word, Tosh became the first to use his music to campaign for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
Often, he performed for free at anti-apartheid concerts in the United States and Europe.
Exiled South Africans and freedom fighters in the apartheid movement have acknowledged his influence for motivating them in their struggle against apartheid and colonialism. He advocated and protested, at the risk of his freedom, against imperial abuse, not only in Jamaica, but also in foreign territories.
In 1967 Tosh was arrested outside the British High Commission in Kingston for protesting against Ian Smith’s takeover of the former Rhodesia, which is now present-day Zimbabwe.
In fact, Peter Tosh has been the victim of a number of police attacks and severe beatings; he was thrown in jail several times for utterances against “Babylon Queendom”, his independent ideology, cussing ‘bad wud’ and smoking herb.
Those experiences allowed him to co-compose, along with Bob Marley, the song, Get up, Stand up, which became an anthem for Amnesty International.
Peter Tosh was a committed ambassador for Jamaican music, Rastafarian philosophy, black culture and human rights and justice through his work as a member of the Wailers, and throughout his solo career.
Recognition for Winston Hubert McIntosh, aka Peter Tosh, at the highest level, by the land of his birth, is long overdue and well deserved. Similar to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, it is for artistic excellence, his social and political activity through music and his inspiration to others in diverse arenas across the world for which he is being honoured with the notion’s highest civilian award, the Order of Merit, not whether “him cuss bad wud or smoke weed.” And after contemplation, I do believe Tosh would accept the OM in the name of and on behalf of the Jamaican proletariat. I also believe on acceptance he would find some meaning other than Order of Merit for this award. In the way he changed prime minister to “crime minister,” manager to “damager” or BMW to “Black Man Wagon,” Tosh would make some statement or coin his own meaning that would turn the whole blinking thing on its head.
From the unknown world perhaps Peter Tosh considers the OM the recognition accorded an Official Martyr.
Herbie Miller is director/curator, Jamaica Music Museum at The Institute of Jamaica and former manager of Peter Tosh.