The last thing they should have given him was a mic and a time slot to perform. I mean, this whole concert was about peace and unity, and bridging the political divide, right? Oh, to see the faces of Prime Minister Michael Manley and Edward Seaga as they sit there, looking up at Peter Tosh while he directed his ire down on them.
The One Love Peace Concert is held on April 22, 1978 at The National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.
This concert is held on the twelfth anniversary of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica, during a political civil war in Jamaica between opposing parties Jamaican Labour Party and the People’s National Party. The Concert brings together 16 of Reggae’s biggest acts, and is dubbed by the media as the “Third World Woodstock.” The concert is divided into two halves, with the first half devoted to showcasing some of Reggae’s newer talent, and the second half devoted to the more established artists.
The mighty Jacob Miller, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Peter Tosh backed by Word, Sound, and Power headline the second half of the show. I will explore Jacob Miller’s and Bob Marley’s performances in a separate post.
Peter decides to open his set with praises to Jah on a thunderous version of “Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praise)”. Peter strolls the stage as only Peter could, in his black Kung-Fu kimono, flexing and puffing out his chest as if he were the only performer worth seeing that night.
The band slips effortlessly into “400 years”, a tune from the Wailers’ Catch A Fire album and one of Tosh’s strongest songs. They follow 400 years with a blazing rendition of Stepping Razor, in which the Wailers’ lead guitarist Al Anderson slays his guitar solo, bringing the crowd close to frenzy.
It is on the heels of Stepping Razor that Tosh delivers his first of several livitribes, each of which render the audience speechless. In his first livitribe, Tosh speaks about “breaking down the barriers of oppression and to rule equality”.
” I come with earthquake, lightning and thunder to break down the barriers of oppression, to drive away transgression and to rule equality between humble black people”.
After performing “Burial“, a fantastic cut (and probably my favorite Tosh track) off of Legalize It, Tosh launches into another livitribe and focuses his anger directly at Manley and Seaga, who are seated just before the stage.
“Me glad all the Prime Minister is here and the Minister of Opposition and members of Parliament. We can’t make the little pirate dem come here and rob up the resources for the country. Because that is what dem been doing a long bloodbath time…I am not a politician but I suffer the consequences (Steffens, The Peter Tosh Biography 48).”
“The police are still out there brutalising poor people,” Tosh raged at Manley, who sat in the second row. “This concert here they call a peace concert … but peace is the diploma you get in the cemetery on top of your grave.”
“If I was the authorities I would close all the police stations.”
While smoking a spliff onstage (marijuana is illegal in Jamaica), Tosh berates the politicians for keeping the people from using this most essential herb, given unto the earth by God for man to use, and for harassing Rastafarians.
His set lasts 66 minutes. Tosh spends almost half of that time denouncing the problems prevalent in society.
It is therefore not without coincidence that Tosh, only a few short months later, is beaten nearly to death by as many as ten police officers for his antics at the One Love Peace Concert.
At 7:30 AM on September 19, 1978, Tosh is arrested on suspicion of smoking a spliff. At the police station, in a private lock-up, no less than 10 police officers laid into him. Tosh is left with a broken arm, too many bruises to count, and a large gash on his skull. This is not totally out of the ordinary for Tosh, as his face bears the scars of multiple police beatings he has endured throughout his life.
Like Marley’s firebrand performance at the Smile Jamaica Concert, and his now-historic performance at the One Love Peace Concert (which I shall cover in detail in a later post), the importance of Tosh’s performance at the One Love Peace Concert in the sociopolitical history of Jamaica cannot be underestimated.
As stated so eloquently by Assata Shakur at The Talking Drum:
“Never before had such a public figure openly insulted and contested the Jamaican regime. That is what separated Peter from the rest of his peers in the Jamaican music industry. While Bob Marley decided to go more mainstream, and easygoing, and Bunny became somewhat reclusive and unnoticed, Peter continued on in his same staunch, militant manner. This gave the people of Jamaica a strong leader whom they could trust to hold his morals steadfast in the face of adversity.”
I have included part of Peter’s performance at the One Love Peace Concert, including his livitribes. I am unable to share his performance in entirety because it has been officially released by JAD records. It can be purchased here.
“Igziabeher” (Let Jah Be Praise) One Love Peace Concert