Words by Erin Hansen-McKnight/Photo by Richard E. Aaron
In 1978, an intensely polarized political state existed in Jamaica between opposing parties. The People’s National Party and Jamaican Labor Party were at war over the future of the nation. A “Peace Committee” made up of community leaders from opposing parties organized the One Love Peace Concert as an attempt to inspire amity amongst the parties, calling on Bob Marley to headline the show and usher in conciliation. The One Love Peace Concert became historic for the imagery of Marley joining the hands of Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga on stage.
Prior to Bob Marley taking the stage, Peter Tosh– who had ventured out into a solo career with his album “Legalize It”– gave a memorable performance and spoke feverishly about Jamaica’s toxic political situation, colonialism, poverty and the decriminalization of ganja (34:10). He cussed a few bad words and called out politicians by name. In a 2013 article in the Jamaica Observer, photographer Howard Moo-Young described Peter Tosh’s mood during his set that night:
“With his powerful voice echoing throughout the stadium and across Beverley Hills, one could now feel the very ground vibrating to Buckingham Palace and Glass House. But more was to come as Tosh pulled off his black tam, flashed his locks furiously, placed a six-inch spliff between his lips and lit up the stage with smoke and the familiar scent of cannabis. Were we about to witness the evolution of ‘Sting’? As expletive after expletive rolled off his lips over the microphone, the audience stood mesmerised.
“I watched intently as the commissioner of police and members of the security forces stood their ground. Was any member bold enough to make a move and uphold the law? Not a man moved, but one could hear the constant hum of voices getting louder from the audience. Was Peter inciting the crowd to action? He appeared angry that night as he denounced what he felt was a political system of colonialism.”
Despite the palpable tension of the situation, Peter Tosh boldly proclaims his discontent before transitioning into his closing set: “Legalize It/Get Up Stand Up.” On April 22nd it will be the thirty-seventh anniversary of the One Love Peace Concert.