The timeless message of Peter Tosh – a daughter reflects
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, October 17, 2021
with Niambe McIntosh
As many across the world are tuned into a frequency of sickness, death, and blatant injustice for black and indigenous people worldwide, the words and message of Peter Tosh couldn't be more relevant and essential to the consciousness of the masses.
Together, as a global community, we have watched the bloodshed of countless black lives be streamed over the Internet by the hands of racist individuals. We have witnessed a health crisis creep and then sprint right to our front doors, crippling many with fear. And now, at a time when we so desperately need companionship and understanding, government regulations, mandates, and the media have polarised us to what is seemingly beyond repair.
The world needs reggae music, but not just any reggae, specifically the music and wisdom of my father, Peter Tosh, his legacy, and the livity of Rastafari. Not only is he a Grammy award-winning musician, but he was also the radical and musically gifted voice that founded The Wailers, who trod the planet to spread a message of equal rights and justice, Rastafari, and fought for cannabis legalisation.
I grew up as the youngest of his 10 children, Jamaican-born, but raised in the inner city of Boston in the United States, moving often to find a more peaceful neighbourhood. And even though we grew up with modest means, we had the privilege to move, even if it meant spending time in a shelter or with family. One lesson that my mother has taught me is that you have to have peace at home by any means necessary. She made it a point to ensure that our home was our sanctuary, so that we — my brother and I — had the emotional strength to go off into the world and learn and think critically.
I didn't grow up with my father, he died when I was five, but I was guided by his music when I became a DJ at the age of 17. I pursued a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, then a master's degree in education so that, just like my father, I could teach. My sole purpose was to uplift the minds of the young people that looked like me.
When you learn to trust the process, you learn that every stage in life prepares you for the future that is meant for you.
It was in 2009, at the age of 28, and 22 years after my father's death that I became aware of my father's estate — the control of his name, image, and likeness which should have long been managed by his family. It was also at that time I stepped up to the mantle, on behalf of my brothers and sisters, to take on the fiduciary responsibilities of becoming the official administrator of my father's estate. None of my father's children were versed in the music business, my father's musical history, or his contractual agreements with record companies. So, when I started, we spent the first five years looking back into history to understand what was legitimate and what was not. It was messy, so we made some changes and decided to look to the future and create opportunities that were within our power. We have been the underdog coming to claim what is rightfully ours.
I often analyse this world that we live in and turn to the wisdom of my father to provide guidance. Right now we have a health crisis across the world and there is no talk about shifting to a healthy lifestyle. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, in 2019, one-third of deaths globally are from cardiovascular disease. It's no wonder that in 2021 we are knee-deep in a pandemic. My father took health very seriously, mastering the art of riding a unicycle, studying martial arts, and practising a whole food, plant-based diet – a practice that has been part Rastafari since its origins in the 1930s. In my father's 1979 song, Mystic Man, he shares the many foods that have saturated the globe, even though science has proven them to be carcinogenic and debilitating to our immune systems. And, unfortunately, due to globalisation and industrialisation, the poor and less educated are left to eat these foods.
...drink no champagne
...Eat up your fried chicken
...Eat up them frankfurters
...Eat down the hamburger
...Drink pink, blue, yellow, green soda ”
My father has told us and now it's time to listen. Not just because we are fans, but because adhering to the message, even if gradually, for many of us can have a drastic effect on our physical and mental health for the better.
What we are also beginning to see is that, when my father told us to Legalize It in his platinum-selling album by that name, it wasn't a gesture for his own personal benefit. He proclaimed cannabis consumption as his divine right for spiritual, medicinal, and uplifting benefits. It is a movement that will truly benefit humanity. When we look at the lyrics of Bush Doctor and Legalize It, we learn that Peter was very much aware of the medical value.
It's good for the flu
Good for asthma
Good for tuberculosis”
...Only cure for asthma
...Only cure for glaucoma”
Peter Tosh was well-read. Moreover, all of these claims have, in many ways, been recently backed by science, including his claims about glaucoma, whereas, in 2006, in the Journal of Glaucoma they found that the administration of natural tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) extracts, a compound in cannabis, temporarily reduces ocular hypertension in glaucoma patients.
However, many of us across the globe are becoming more aware of these medicinal values, but most don't fully understand how legalisation will actually have a direct impact on police brutality, mass incarceration rates, and this failing economy. My father recognised the impact of legalisation back in 1978 in the song Bush Doctor.
“When I see them [police] a come
I don't have to jump no fence
...So there'll be no more
...No more disrespect
...It can build up your failing economy
Eliminate the slavish mentality
...There'll be no more
...And no more police
In the United States, the police's hyper-violence against black families has often been connected to black and brown individuals being linked to cannabis in some capacity.
We can also look at the history of Jamaica's persecution of followers of Rastafari, where even my father was nearly beaten to death when the police justified his arrest with references to his possession of a spliff.
And, it would be remiss of me if I didn't mention my brother Jawara, musically known as Tosh 1, who did not experience police brutality, but was brutally beaten and suffered a traumatic brain injury after being arrested for cannabis possession in 2017. He later succumbed to his injuries in 2020.
The words of Peter Tosh have come to be revered as a prophecy to many.
So, when we listen to the ever-timeless song Can't Blame the Youth we must probe deeper than just the references of a few historical figures and meaningless nursery rhymes. We must question the establishment as a whole. Look at one another as I and I, brothers and sisters, and seek to understand rather than judge. Our glorious history has been omitted from history books. Our trauma is ignored so that they can simply lock us up and throw away the key. Our youth are often misguided by over-sexualisation and violence in our music and then denied health and wellness education to help them heal from issues of colourism, post-traumatic stress disorder, overall lack of self-love, and the effects of slavery and colonisation . We can even compare schools like the Haile Selassie Technical High School and Ardenne High School in Kingston, Jamaica, where the differences in just the physical structures alone would lead anyone of sound mind to be convinced that some of us deserve an adequate education, while others don't even deserve to have running water.
Nonetheless, our past is our past and it does become a great part of who we are. But we are divinely connected. As my father said in the song African: “No matter where you come from, as long as you're a black man you are an African.” I will take that statement even further for us by pointing to science which has determined that the oldest human remains have been found in Kenya and through the evolution of 'wo-man' we are all connected.
So on my father's 77th 'earthstrong', I ask the world to adjust what we consume. Balance the mind, body, and spirit with the guidance and wisdom of Peter Tosh.
Niambe McIntosh is the last child of the revolutionary musician and activist Peter Tosh. Despite being the youngest, McIntosh is an executive of her father's estate and brand. In addition, she puts heavy emphasis on a health and wellness lifestyle while advocating for freedom, justice, and equity. She is a board member of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana, curating council member CORE Social Justice Cannabis Museum, and the founder of the Peter Tosh Foundation.