Was Peter Tosh’s radicalism a blessing or a curse?

Bob Marley, Mike Mhundwa and one member of the Wailers.

Reggae icon Bob Marley died in May 1981 when he was only 36 but at that young age, he had already conquered the world.

It is said that  Bob Marley’s son, Ziggy Marley has made a name for himself  throughout the world because he has been riding on his father’s coattails. If that is true, why has that not been the case with Andrew Tosh, Peter Tosh’s son?

On the 11th May, 2024, it will be Bob Marley’s 80th anniversary. Peter Tosh, who died on the 11th September in 1987, would have been 80 years old.

Early this year, I received a call from Oya Oezcan, Andrew Tosh’s manager asking about the possibility of bringing Andrew Tosh to Zimbabwe for a concert on his father’s 80th anniversary. I spoke to three music promoters and a few members of the public. The promoters did not think that it was a viable project and most members of the public did not know who Andrew Tosh was or the songs he had sung.

I am wondering if this situation would have been different if Peter Tosh had not been so radical  when he rejected our invitation asking him to perform in Zimbabwe  in 1985.  Some of you might have heard the story of Peter Tosh’s radicalism before, but I have had so many requests  from the public to repeat it. This is how the story goes:

In 1984, Debbie Metcalfe, Musekiwa Kumbula, Stanley Gumbe, Jeffery John Chavunduka, Mike Mhundwa and myself, formed an organisation which we called the Zimbabwe Music Promoters Association (Zimpa). This consortium was responsible for promoting local and international musicians. Gumbe had brought in Percy Sledge to Zimbabwe, Mhundwa promoted the Don Carlos show, Chavunduka was mainly responsible for South African artists such as Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Chico and Chimora, Metcalfe pushed the local promotion of the Bhundu Boys while Kumbula was responsible for Jimmy Cliff’s performances in Zimbabwe and I brought in King Sounds, Aswad and Dennis Brown.

It was at this gathering, while in a meeting that we heard of Peter Tosh performing in Swaziland. Mike Mhundwa and I decided we would capture him and discuss the possibility of a performance in Zimbabwe on his way back to Jamaica. I flew to Swaziland to discuss this project with Tosh. He arrogantly said he was too busy to talk business with me. I flew back to Harare after his performance in Mbabane, Swaziland, but left him my contact details. To my surprise, he called me from Swaziland two days later informing me that he was coming to Harare to discuss business on condition that I booked him into a hotel for two nights. I discussed this with Mhundwa who was excited by the whole deal. So, we booked him into the Bronte Hotel. He arrived the next day and we picked him up at the airport. We had informed the press that Peter Tosh would be coming to Harare and before we knew it, the Bronte Hotel was full of journalists who wrestled each other for an interview with him. One rather pushy journalist, Vivian Maravanyika who came with Jimmy Salani the Herald’s photographer, wanted an immediate interview with Tosh but was told to come back the following morning at 10am as he was too tired to give an interview at that time.

The following morning, we all went to the Bronte Hotel, at 10. Tosh was still in bed. We waited until 12 noon and I decided to go to the reception to phone him in his room. He answered abruptly with the words, “Soon come, man!” At 1:15 pm, he eventually emerged from his hotel room. Maravanyika politely asked, “Mr Tosh, you told us to come at 10, but we have been waiting here for three hours?” Tosh replied, “You is too raatid bomboclaat mad, man! What is three hour? You people have been waiting for independence from colonial rule for over 100 years. So what is three hour? [sic]”

He took out his satchel which was strapped around his shoulder and out came this long and thick spliff which at first I thought was a cheroot until he lighted it and the smell from the bellowing smoke made it obvious what it was. I had never seen such a large joint before. The last time I had seen him with close to such a big spliff was at a concert in London when he sang Legalise Marijuana, and he was preaching to a 99% all-white audience with policemen all over the auditorium, “Black people, this herb make you wiser, seen! Unless you come to this realisation, you shall remain in dem bombaclaat chain! Dem say it’s illegal but I smoke it and dem cyan’t arrest me, because if they do, I will not sing for you. If I don’t sing for you, you will riot, seen!”

“Now Vivian, talk to me now!”, he went on to say. Maravanyika asked when he was likely to come to perform in Zimbabwe. Peter avoided answering this question and after one long puff from his ganja, he turned to me instead, “Fred, is how much the population of Zimbabwe?” he asked. I told him that it was about eight million. He then laughed and went on to say, “Now go and tell Mugabe to come here and see me. Tell him the king of reggae music in command of three billion people all over the world would like to see him.” I told him that it was an impossible task. I could not figure out how I could ask the leader of the country to come to the Bronte Hotel to see Peter Tosh. I thought to myself, the spliff must be working on Tosh. I also wondered how he had smuggled that joint into Zimbabwe.

“If Mugabe doesn’t come to see me here, we cyan’t talk about performance in Zimbabwe!” That ended the conversation for that day. Indeed, he was justified in his thinking. If Mugabe had sent a delegation of Gordon Muchanyuka and Job Kadengu to Jamaica to invite Bob Marley in 1980, why couldn’t he do the same for Peter Tosh who was already in Zimbabwe?

Mhundwa and I remained optimistic. We decided to take Tosh to lunch at a restaurant in town. We mentioned the Lido Restaurant in Union Avenue (now Kwame Nkrumah Avenue).

“What kind of food do they cook over there?” he asked. “Never you forget that I and I is a Rastaman. Me nah believe in the killing of hanimals. So I and I don’t touch any kind of meat. Ital is vital, seen!” I told him that they also do vegetarian dishes there and he seemed satisfied with that answer. Off we went to town. He took his unicycle and rasta staff with him. As we got near the Lido, there were two people fighting for parking space, a black man and a white lady. Peter Tosh saw this and pointed his walking stick at the white lady, “You raasclaat! This is Africa for African, leave the black man to park freely in his country. You should go back to bombaclaat Babylon!” The white lady looked shocked and the black man, whom we later learned was Ambrose Mtungwazi, a tobacco salesman, apologised to the lady but still went on to park. After lunch, Tosh took his unicycle into First Street and rode it in front of an amazed crowd. He stopped to explain how his cycle functioned, “You haffi have nuff skill to ride this cycle. You see, a three-wheel one is a tricycle, a two-wheel one is a bicycle and a one-wheel one is a unicycle. Is better than any of your motor vehicle. You don’t need no fuel or battery, seen!”

Later that night, Mhundwa and I took Tosh to Archipellago Night Club in Baker Street (now Nelson Mandela Avenue). He shot straight past the white bouncers manning the entrance to the club. The two bouncers rushed towards him and asked him to pay. “What pay?” he retorted rather angrily. “You white people is a big tief man! You took me from Africa and enslaved me in Jamaica. I laboured for you without pay. So, is where you expect me to get  the money to pay? Cho man! Ah weh een tink eern ah guh duh? Me gaan!’’ ( What do you think you are going to do?. I am gone!”)

I was embarrassed. I tried to explain to the bouncers that this was the famous Peter Tosh but it didn’t work. He cursed the men and left the club in a huff.

The next day, on our way to the airport, we tried to commit Peter Tosh to agreeing to a date of performance in Zimbabwe and this is what he had to say, “Listen to me now! I am not coming to Zimbabwe on any lesser terms than Bob Marley. Bob was invited by Mugabe. So, go and tell Mugabe to write me a letter inviting me also. He should also tell me how much he is offering me for the performance. So, you go and work it out with Mugabe.” That was too radical for both Mike and I.

On September 11, 1987, armed with an invitation letter from the Youth, Sport and Recreation minister, I was in Kingston, Jamaica trying to conduct further negotiations but I was met with the shocking news that Peter Tosh had been shot dead. That was it.

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