The One Love Peace Concert
Reggae superstar Bob Marley (centre), bringing political rivals Michael Manley (left), Jamaica's prime minister, and Edward Seaga, leader of opposition, together during the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston in 1978. (Photo: Howard Moo Young

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 39th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

AT the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia during the 1970s, Jamaica was burdened by political warfare for most of that decade.

Kingston was a city under siege as fanatical supporters of the governing People's National Party (PNP) and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) battled in the capital's garrison communities.

The One Love Peace Concert, held on April 22 1978, was supposed to bring stability to a country torn apart along ideological lines.

In a 2018 interview, Tommy Cowan, who produced the show, recalled it's magnitude.

"I don't remember the source, but it's rated among the top 10 rock concerts — which speaks for itself," he said.

Supporters of Prime Minister Michael Manley's socialist policies saw him as a Third World hero in the mould of Cuban President Fidel Castro. His detractors, led by the conservative Opposition Leader Edward Seaga, considered Manley a danger to democracy in the Caribbean.

Manley and Seaga were brought together on stage by Bob Marley, a symbolic moment as iconic as Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, or the infamous John and Yoko sleep-ins.

It was Marley's first major show in just over one year. He had moved to England in December 1976 after being shot by gunmen at his Kingston home. As fighting between Manley and Seaga backers escalated in 1977, enforcers from both factions reached out to Marley who agreed to headline a peace concert at the National Stadium in Kingston.

Claudius Massop, a Seaga supporter, approached Cowan, an impresario with a growing reputation, to produce the event which would feature other top acts such as Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, The Mighty Diamonds, Jacob Miller and Inner Circle, and Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus.

While the image of Marley holding Manley and Seaga's hands aloft is the most memorable image of the One Love Peace Concert, Tosh's profane performance in which he blasted Jamaica's ruling class for neglecting the poor also stood out. Miller delivered a riveting set in which he called Massop and rival gang leaders on stage in a show of unity.

Within three years some of the leading players in the show died. Massop was controversially killed by police in Kingston in February 1979. He was only 30 years old.

Miller died in an auto accident in March 1980 at age 27; and Marley succumbed to cancer in May 1981 at age 36.

Tosh was murdered at his home in Kingston in September 1987. He was 42.

The gang violence the concert was held to suppress still continued to rage leading up to the general election in October 1980, won in landslide fashion by Seaga and the JLP.

More than 800 persons were murdered that year.

Manley died in 1997 at age 73. Seaga, his arch nemesis, died in May 2019 at age 89.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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