The ‘mummification’ of Tosh?
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.