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Peter Tosh lyrics ‘prophetic’ on Zimbabwe situation

REGGAE icon Peter Tosh’s works live long after his death with a haunting relevance. He speaks to the world from the grave.

REGGAE icon Peter Tosh’s works live long after his death with a haunting relevance. He speaks to the world from the grave.

By Jairos Saunyama

He was one of the founding members of the internationally acclaimed Jamaican reggae band, then called the Wailing Wailers, before they went separate ways with Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley.

Tosh, nicknamed the Bush Doctor, was philosophical and very radical.

He had no sacred cows, as seen from his blasting the Jamaican political system at the One Love Peace Concert. He called it “the shitstem”.

Using his poetic licence the word was coined from ‘shit’ and ‘system’. He was against oppression.

Tosh, real name Winston Hubert Mackintosh, was also an anti-apartheid activist.

Peter Tosh (1944-1987), Jamaican reggae musician, playing the guitar while singing into a microphone during a concert, circa 1978. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)

He was a great supporter of the liberation struggles of southern Africa. Not only did he sing biting reggae lyrics but also was a revolutionary in practical terms.

In this regard, the lyrics of some of his songs will be looked at in order to see whether the music has relevance to the socio-economic-political upheaval bedevilling post-independent Zimbabwe.

The Grammy award-winning reggae artiste exhibited his profound love for Zimbabwe. Sadly he never performed in the country.

He visited with plans to hold a show which never materialised as he passed away in 1987.

Zimbabwe’s current socio-economic-politico morass, which many hope will be resolved following the fall former President Robert Mugabe recently.

In the past, peaceful protests have almost invariably turned violent. The police have blamed protesters for the violence. The protesters have pointed an accusing finger at what they have called a sadomasochistic police force.

The independent media has been awash with images of unprecedented police brutality. Tear gas fumes have filled the streets of Harare and water cannons have been used to break up protests.

There is no doubt, that life was a nightmarish for many a Zimbabwean under Mugabe. A significant chunk of the population left for the Diaspora.

Banks are reeling under an acute cash shortage. At some point, civil servants pay days became an uncertainty.

Tosh’s song — Get Up, Stand Up — off the album, Equal Rights, carries the catchy, sing-along line, “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.”

The freshness of that timeless song is not lost on the listener. The victim, whose rights have been trampled in post independent Zimbabwe, is urged to fight for their rights.

Zimbabweans’ rights to employment, health and education, among other social services, have been trampled over and over again, and one can almost hear Tosh’s voice echoing: “Get up, stand up for your rights.”

The album won accolades and was termed one of Tosh’s most well-crafted works.

It is a timeless classic indeed.

The song, Crystal Ball, talks of teachers striking in the city. The city is a place that the artiste derisively calls the “Shitty”.

In recent times, we have witnessed strikes not only by teachers but doctors as well. Many other professionals and workers have staged strikes.

It was an indication of disgruntlement that had become deep-rooted. Given the foregoing, one finds that Tosh’s lyrics have a certain poignancy about them.

One needs to look no further than the mellow lyrics of the song, Come Together. The message in the song is love for one’s brother. There is a message that is biblical indeed.

The song spreads the message of love, respect and togetherness. It deplores the bickering among mankind.

The lyrics clearly demonstrate that fragmentation will not be beneficial to anyone.

Tosh compelled those riding on the gravy train to realise the need for enlightened self-interest.

He sang, “I don’t want no peace. I need equal rights and justice/ Everyone is talking about crime/Crime tell me who are the criminals.’

One can recall that during Mugabe’s era, only the small fish got caught in the corruption dragnet.

Parastatals have been looted to shocking levels, with workers going home empty-handed. Hospitals have gone without basic medicines, yet chief executive officers flew first class while importing expensive luxury cars.

In the song, Oh BumboKlaat, Tosh sang that the “shitstem” (system) has to be re-arranged.

The message in the song resonates with what a significant part of the Zimbabwean population wanted to happen after years of Mugabe’s misrule. “The shitstem we gotta re-arrange,” sang Tosh.

The term, “bumboklaat” is a serious swear word. In the song, Tosh repeatedly uses it to registering his deep displeasure at the system that oppresses the poor.

It is no secret that in Zimbabwe some professionals were counted among the ranks of the poor.

Regarding the situation in Zimbabwe, which Peter Tosh would call the “situation” (shit situation), many hoped there would be change.

But, the people came together, held a solidarity march and it worked. After 37 years, the country got a new leader. The masses stood up for their rights.

It is now up to the new leadership to turn things around, less Tosh’s message in his lyrics will fit again in the new dispensation — it will not be good.

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