Thirty years after he was murdered at his Kingston, Jamaica, home by a longstanding acquaintance he had befriended, reggae icon Peter Tosh’s multi-faceted legacy will be celebrated at the inaugural Peter Tosh Music Festival on Oct. 19-22 in Kingston.
The festival is presented by the Peter Tosh Museum, a partnership between prominent Jamaican businessman Kingsley Cooper, founder of Pulse Investments Limited (which includes a thriving modeling agency), Andrea Marlene Brown (Tosh’s common law wife at the time of his Sept. 11, 1987 murder) and the Peter Tosh Estate. Festival events include the Peter Tosh VIP Gala on Oct. 19 (which would have been Tosh’s 73rd birthday) featuring an awards ceremony honoring individuals who are continuing his social activism, working towards the legalization of marijuana and advancing the arts, especially reggae music.
Nelson Mandela will be posthumously honored with the inaugural Equal Rights and Justice Award, which will be accepted by his grandson N’daba Mandela. The Equal Rights and Legalize It Symposium (Oct. 20 at Kingston’s University of the West Indies) will explore issues surrounding Tosh’s crusades for justice; speakers include Jasmine Rand, attorney for Tosh’s youngest son Jawara McIntosh who was brutally beaten in a New Jersey jail in February 2017 (where he was serving a sentence for cannabis related charges) and now lies comatose in a Boston hospital.
The Peter Tosh Estate has numerous projects underway intended to strengthen his distinctive legacy. Among them, says Tosh’s daughter Niambe McIntosh, are remixes of his music, expanded merchandise options, a feature film directed by Kevin MacDonald (director of the 2012 Marley documentary) and perhaps the most anticipated of all, a Peter Tosh cannabis brand and cannabis product line.
“Many people have wondered why Peter Tosh is not in the cannabis space already; I have learned so much from the brands that are already out there, so we are just taking the time to fine tune what my father and the family can stand behind,” shares Niambe, a former Boston area schoolteacher.
Niambe wouldn’t disclose the name of the Tosh cannabis brand, but she emphatically stated that the educational program accompanying the brand’s rollout is as important as delivering a quality product. “People often start smoking in their teen years so we have to start having open conversations with teens and kids about cannabis, telling them about the benefits but also the side effects,” Niambe continued. “My father was a bush doctor who used his music to touch on so many issues that are prevalent within our society today; because of what he stood for, I can’t throw his name on just any product. He’s Peter Tosh, the godfather of the legalization movement!”
The climactic Peter Tosh Tribute Concert will be held on Oct. 21 at the Peter Tosh Museum (located at Cooper’s Pulse Entertainment Complex in the capital city’s New Kingston business district), which opened to the public on Nov. 1, 2016. Members of Tosh’s Word Sound and Power band will reunite, backing the various reggae acts that will be performing Tosh’s music. The lineup features Peter’s son Andrew Tosh, Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani Marley, reggae queen Marcia Griffiths (formerly with Bob Marley’s backing vocal trio The I-Threes), sing-jay Tony Rebel (also the promoter of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s annual Rastafarian reggae festival, held in mid-January), the forthright Queen Ifrica whose activism has helped broker peace among rival gangs in some of Kingston’s most volatile communities, legendary singer Luciano and rising reggae star Jesse Royal. Royal’s recent track “400 Years” was undoubtedly inspired by Tosh’s song of the same name, an exploration of the historical injustices and lingering repercussions of slavery. Special guest artist is Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr and drummer with The Who; Starkey has recorded a version “Get Up, Stand Up”, the timeless anthem of insurgency co-written by Tosh and Bob Marley.
In 2016, several events, including a commemorative concert, were held in Kingston from Oct.19-21, surrounding the soft launch of the Peter Tosh Museum. Invited guests and media got the first look at the museum’s numerous artifacts chronicling Tosh’s life, including his best reggae album Grammy Award bestowed posthumously in 1988 for “No Nuclear War” (EMI), his fabled M-16 shaped guitar, his unicycle and a treasure trove of artwork, photos and assorted personal items.
But this year marks the first time the October activities have been branded as the Peter Tosh Music Festival. “We changed the name to the Peter Tosh Music Festival with the intent of attracting a broader audience to support the events happening around my father’s birthday,” explained Niambe, Tosh’s youngest child and administrator of the Peter Tosh Estate, in an exclusive phone interview with Billboard from her Boston home.
“The events encompass an authentic Jamaican experience, from the concert in Kingston, the city where reggae was founded, to the intellectual conversations around Jamaican culture at the symposium, to the trip to Belmont (on Oct. 21) to visit the property where my father was born and where his mausoleum is located. When people attend a festival in Peter Tosh’s name, it’s really important that they leave with a greater understanding of the issues that mattered to him and why his messages are still so relevant.”
Manager of the Peter Tosh Estate, music industry veteran Brian Latture of MegaSource Entertainment Group, adds: “In the future we will incorporate various genres into the festival’s lineup; with diversification, the fans who come will be introduced to new music. The festival will always have reggae at its core and we have the good fortune to be working with some of reggae’s most seasoned event producers.”
As a cofounder of the Wailers alongside Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, the late Peter Tosh brought an acerbic wit, uncompromising African identity and a visionary, rebellious voice to the seminal Jamaican harmony group.
Born Winston Hubert McIntosh on Oct. 19, 1944, in the rural Jamaican parish of Westmoreland, Tosh was the first Wailer to write/record a song championing their Rastafarian way of life (which their music introduced to the world in the early 1970s), “Rasta Shook Them Up,” a retooling of a Trinidadian calypso with lyrics honoring Ethiopian Emperor (and Rastafarian Deity) Haile Selassie’s momentous visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966.
As a solo artist following his 1974 departure from the Wailers, Peter was unyielding in defending causes related to the advancement of his people. He raised global awareness surrounding the oppression endured by the black population in South Africa under the Apartheid regime with his 1975 track “Fight Apartheid,” featured on his Equal Rights album (CBS Records).
At Jamaica’s historic One Love Peace Concert (April 22, 1978), Tosh lit a ganja spliff, delivered a mesmerizing speech lambasting the island’s corrupt political “shitstem,” as he called it, and police led campaigns against Rastafarians as his introduction to “Legalize It.” Among Tosh’s best-known songs, “Legalize It” presciently advised decriminalization of the “holy herb,” as Rastas view marijuana, detailing the plant’s healing properties decades before the term medical marijuana came into existence. A few months after that fateful concert, Tosh was disciplined for his forthrightness — police arrested then callously beat him for hours, leaving him for dead on a downtown Kingston jail-cell floor. Thirty-four years later the Jamaican government posthumously conferred Peter Tosh the Order of Merit, the country’s fourth highest national honor for his eminent achievements in the arts, in 2012.
The numerous accomplishments in Tosh’s career include gold and platinum album certifications, respectively, for Equal Rights and Legalize It (Columbia), the latter Tosh’s most successful U.S. release. Tosh signed to Rolling Stones Records in 1978, releasing three albums for the label. His first, “Bush Doctor,” featured a reggae interpretation of the Temptations‘ “Don’t Look Back.” sung with Mick Jagger, which reached No. 81 on the Hot 100, while their performance of the song on Saturday Night Live took Tosh’s talents into homes across America. During Saturday Night Live’s second music segment, Tosh sang “Bush Doctor”; its opening words, “Legalize marijuana,” are said to be the first ganja campaigning song lyrics broadcast on U.S. television. Tosh and his Word Sound and Power band (featuring powerhouse rhythm section Sly Dunbar, drums and Robbie Shakespeare, bass) were the opening act on several dates of the Stones’ “Some Girls” tour.
Unhappy with the Stones’ marketing of his music, Tosh moved over to EMI. His 1983 debut album for the label, “Mama Africa,” reached No. 59 on the Top 200, driven by a roots rock rendition of Chuck Berry’s rock and roll classic “Johnny B. Goode,” which peaked at No. 84 on the Hot 100. Recasting Johnny as a Jamaican guitar hero, Tosh’s video for “Johnny B. Goode” was among the very first reggae videos in rotation on MTV. Tosh eventually fought EMI over a perceived lack of promotion and contractual obligations that included distribution in (then Apartheid ruled) South Africa.
Kingsley Cooper, who led years of negotiations between the Peter Tosh Estate (Tosh had 10 children) and Marlene Brown, which resulted in the Peter Tosh Museum, produced the final concert of Peter Tosh’s career, Pulse Superjam, held in Kingston on Dec. 31, 1983. He envisions the Peter Tosh Music Festival outgrowing its current location within the next few years.
“For next year we are looking at bringing in some major acts that we think would be interested in performing on a Peter tribute concert, which we believe will become a major music festival,” says Cooper. “Peter was a rebel with a cause, he wouldn’t bow to anyone or anything and that made him a hero to many people, so the idea is to build something that has diversity, is specific to Peter and enhances his legacy.”