The month of September is regarded in the reggae history as the month of one of the founding members of the Wailers, Peter Tosh, born Winston Hubert Macintosh on October 19, 1944.
This is because on September 11, 1987 a three-man man gang came to his house to rob him. When Tosh told them he had no money, the chief thug Dennis ‘Leppo’ Lobban, a man whom Tosh had previously befriended and even tried to help secure job after a long prison spell, put a gun to his head and shot him dead.
After leaving The Wailers that he had been part of from 1963 to 1974 Tosh started a solo career and in 1976 formed a backing band called ‘Word, Sound and Power’ which in the initial stages included the reggae legends Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar and Robert ‘Robbie’ Shakespeare, drummer and bassist of international repute respectively.
Unlike many musicians, what Peter Tosh was putting into his music in terms of lyrical output was also projected in his real life.
Four years before his death, Peter Tosh visited Swaziland, the only time that he ever visited and performed in Africa at Somhlolo Stadium. It is his visit in this Southern African country that caught my attention.
In 1993 I paid a visit to a colleague at the Polytechnic Campus of the University of Malawi. Pasted on his dormitory wall was this photocopied article from a Swaziland Newspaper which at this time fascinated me and I remember to have copied it with my freehand as follows:
“Oh Lord! – It’s Tosh” was the headline.
“Like a demi-god, Peter Tosh breezed into Swaziland in a cloud of Ganja fumes. With dreadlocks swinging, he walked tall and proud radiating an air that he was feeling bigger than the Swazi Mountains.
“At last I am home after 400 years,” he uttered while high ranking Government officials who came to meet him at the airport tried to turn a blind eye to his smoking habits. Peter Tosh is a chain smoker and his ganja has only two places; it is between his fingers or between his lips”.
Now I also need to explain here that although it is illegal, Swazi government says in certain circumstances, individuals may be given permit to possess the drug cannabis, as Peter Tosh was given permit on religious grounds as a Rasta during his concert in that country.
Ironically the article further says: “Before agreeing to hold a press conference, Tosh gave strict instructions that cigarettes should not be smoked in his company. After letting the press roast in a hot, small, stuffy and packed VIP room for an hour – ganja smoke infiltrating the room from a side door – behind a cloud of fumes emerged Peter Tosh.
He walked in like a Rasta Warlord, dreadlocks swinging from shoulder to shoulder, his guitar dangling in one hand. He took his place, took a puff… and started tangling his guitar as if he were sitting alone under a Jamaican palm tree.
Tosh is a combination of many things. He is talented reggae artist… He is witty and philosophical. His readymade answers are sharp and brief. Sometimes he answers questions with other questions or in parables.
But his pompous air makes it for one to separate the real Peter Macintosh from the public Peter Tosh. Perhaps the two are the same – he really believes he belongs to the class of great Prophet like Jesus Christ.
A smile on his face is as rare as a dagga pipe in parliament. When asked why he made the press wait so long for him, he kept his eyes low and went on playing his guitar. After a few seconds, he shot his, “Haven’t you gone to church? Were you never told that Jesus is coming?”
Tosh regards himself as a messenger of JAH – with a mission: “I might come to settle in Africa,” he said “my coming to Africa will promote culture because foreigners promote guns and unrest. This is my land, anyone who doesn’t like that better bite it. I will come back to Africa to clean up. Youth are among to take up the struggle because they are still not polluted in their minds. I am a warrior; I don’t let people tell me what to do.”
With nimble fingers he strummed a tune on his guitar as if nothing was happening. His presence was felt by everybody and he was very aware of it. He loved it.”
Unfortunately Peter Tosh never made it back to Africa and many artists around the world have tried to unsuccessfully copy his lifestyle.
As we commemorate 25 years after he was gunned down, May the Soul of Peter Tosh Rest in Peace.