The ‘mum­mi­fi­ca­tion’ of Tosh?

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT - Melville.cooke@glean­

AS MUCH as I en­joyed Satur­day night’s Peter Tosh Trib­ute Con­cert, I left 38 Trafal­gar Road, New Kingston, with the weighty mat­ter of ‘mum­mi­fi­ca­tion’ on my mind.

It was not the ac­cus­tomed def­i­ni­tion of the process of pre­serv­ing a body for pos­ter­ity, but a play on the ‘mum’ (as in keep mum, mean­ing to stay quiet), in keep­ing with Tosh’s fa­mous wordplay.

So as I walked away from the con­cert space, I was won­der­ing about the si­lenc­ing of Tosh, a pon­der­ing which Mutabaruka’s se­lec­tion of a Tosh track with a cho­rus com­pris­ing rich Ja­maican fab­ric (as in ‘claats’) only deep­ened, for it in­di­cated how much had been left out. For it seemed to me that as much as songs like Equal Rights and 400 Years were per­formed by vo­cal­ists pay­ing re­spects to Tosh, the even­ing lacked a cer­tain edge which the im­me­di­ate post-con­cert se­lec­tion gave a hint of.

It was not a new thought, as since he was awarded a post­hu­mous Or­der of Merit in 2012, I have won­dered how much sani­ti­sa­tion of the Step­ping Ra­zor was re­quired for the high Ja­maican na­tional hon­our in the first place and to main­tain the im­age of an ac­cept­able re­cip­i­ent in the se­cond. The lack of a re­sound­ing con­nec­tion of Tosh with the mar­i­juana-par­tial de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion process was sus­pect – if there is one per­former whose con­tent from Le­galise It to Bush Doc­tor and his speech at the One Love Peace Con­cert in 1978 con­sis­tently had mar­i­juana ref­er­ences, it was Tosh.

Yet there has been no con­certed cam­paign at a level which would have re­in­forced the con­nec­tion in the pub­lic’s mind that Tosh was a mar­i­juana ad­vo­cate of no mean or­der.

This is by no means a crit­i­cism of the con­cert’s or­gan­is­ers, which was a mu­si­cally sat­is­fy­ing af­fair. And the ton­ing down of Tosh is not that dif­fer­ent from the un­of­fi­cial saint­hood of Bob Mar­ley with an at­ten­dant gloss­ing over of his hu­man foibles.

What I term the mum­mi­fi­ca­tion of Tosh has its par­al­lel in the ‘Onelovieifi­ca­tion’ of Bob Mar­ley – the over­look­ing of the fire burn­ing

down ev­ery­thing in Ride Natty Ride and the feel­ing of bomb­ing a church be­cause of ly­ing preach­ers in Talkin’ Blues, for the feel-good of One Love and en­cour­age­ment of Three Lit­tle Birds.

Nei­ther is the dis­tanc­ing of a stated con­nec­tion with Rasta­fari. On Satur­day night, it took Tony Rebel in his MC role to pro­claim Rasta­fari, which al­ways comes across stronger from the host than in song (Rasta­fari Is, per­formed by An­drew Tosh, was one of the overt Rasta­fari Tosh songs on the night). I was re­minded of a Dennis Brown trib­ute con­cert on Or­ange Street, when it was well un­der­way be­fore one of the MCs gave greet­ings in the name of Jah Rasta­fari. Be­fore that, there was no men­tion of the faith.


Still, to say it all about Tosh means hav­ing to face some en­dur­ing is­sues in our so­ci­ety. To ex­am­ine Peace Treaty (which was not per­formed at the trib­ute con­cert) is to delve into the his­tory of politi­cised gangs in Ja­maica and make a con­nec­tion with the may­hem that is hap­pen­ing now. To look thor­oughly at The Day the Dol­lar Die (which I think Mutabaruka played) is to look into ex­change rates and ma­nip­u­lated pric­ing struc­tures to fur­ther en­rich the wealthy with min­i­mum ef­fort. Re­mind­ing the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion about Tosh be­ing beaten al­most to death by the po­lice em­pha­sises the level of ac­ri­mony be­tween the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force and Ja­maica’s lower so­cio-eco­nomic class.

And even as I make this ob­ser­va­tion (which is more that than a crit­i­cism), I am aware of not only the fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions, but also the so­cial ones. Re­bel­lion can help an artiste come to promi­nence, but it is a very hard sus­tain­able sell. Not only do the spe­cific in­ci­dents that are be­ing crit­i­cised change and fade from the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness (look what has hap­pened to apartheid a mere two decades after the of­fi­cial end), but re­bel­lious au­di­ence also changes. Peo­ple get older, have more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, get all re­spectable, and have to ser­vice mort­gages. Dennis Brown

Also, the per­sons who have the in­come (and in­ter­est) to visit a museum and pay good money to at­tend a con­cert are not from the lower so­cioe­co­nomic class, where is much more fer­tile ground for so­cial ful­mi­na­tion than the mid­dle class. The prod­uct has to be geared to­wards those who have money, not those who have only emo­tion. Case in point – check if there are any tracks from the Sur­vival al­bum on the Leg­end com­pi­la­tion by Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers.

Added to that is the flu­id­ity of many who adapt to the set­ting they are in, so the re­bel­lious­ness of Tosh may suit them at a ses­sion, but not in a con­cert hall.

So as Tosh gets his over­due at­ten­tion, it is in­evitable that some of the edge will be taken off the Step­ping Ra­zor. Will his mes­sage of equal rights be blunted? Will Get Up, Stand Up be­come more a con­cert com­mand to a seated au­di­ence (as it was on Satur­day night) than a ral­ly­ing cry for the dis­af­fected?



Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers

Peter Tosh on his uni­cy­cle.


Arte­facts avail­able for view­ing in­side the Peter Tosh Museum.


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