Peter Tosh Tribute

Word, Sound and Power

interview by Chris Boyle

I spoke with Peter Tosh on the telephone several times during the last few months of his life. During our conversations, I found him to be an extremely intense, thoughtful and sincere individual. I liked him. I was looking forward to shaking his hand, looking him in the eye and interviewing him when he reached California on his world tour which was scheduled to begin in November. But one of those "invisible vampires" he sings about on his new album and talks about in this interview canceled that meeting. The night Peter Tosh was murdered, I called his home in New York, hoping he would answer the phone. His phone answering machine did and it played this message. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Peter sang: "I am unable to come to the phone right now. But if you leave your name and number, I'll get back to you somehow..."
These are some of the last Words, Sound and Power of Peter Tosh.

CHRIS: Could you explain the legal hassle involving the release of the album?

PETER: Well, there's a whole lot of bullshit been goin' on with the record company, because previously my albums that I gave the same company have sold millions and they have not shown me statements or royalties yet, and they're doin' it too on this one. So there's a whole lot of bullshit goin' on. Right now, I'm plannin' on takin' them back to court, because right now, they owe me millions of dollars and I'm going to collect it. My previous four albums they got, including Mama Africa. A whole lot of piracy goin'on.

Q: You weren't trained to be a lawyer when you were growing up in Jamaica. How do you stay on top of all this?

A: I have my lawyer deal with the situation and right now we plan to have them audited.

Q: Why wouldn't they release the new album?

A: Just politics, me brother. The reason for that is the album was mostly held back by me, because of the situation. The record company (EMI) breach my contract about 25 times, if not more. And they have no respect. Until now they have not told me the album has been released in South Africa. They still deny the fact. I know, because I have a copy of it. And not only that, they have two albums that they released that they have not told me about. If I didn't go to Zimbabwe, I wouldn't ever see one. And the other one was released in South America, which I haven't seen yet, but my musicians have seen. A whole lot of bullshit goin' on. Right now, the record company owes me a backup royalty and they have to pay me. As sure as the sun will shine tomorrow, as sure they will pay me.

Q: You already won the battle to get the record released?

A: Not to get the record released. To get away from the record company. I don't want to deal with them. They are in total association with apartheid and their mentalities are apartheid. They have no respect for black artists. I am the only artist that write, record and even give them the album jacket. When you see the album you will see what I'm talking about. All things, everything that makes the whole album concept come from me and yet, they don't want to respect that. I'm sick and tired of that scene. And they haven't given me an appropriate statement yet and when I ask them for one I see it four years later. And when the statement come, it's madness.

Q: That blows my mind.

A: Can you imagine me? It worries me so much that I would fight any guy who stand in a position against my music in the record company, physically.

Q: Can you talk about any songs on the new album that stand out?

A: The whole album is a great album. It don't have no weak side. I'll have to play those new songs on the tour. We're goin' all over the world. I haven't been around the earth in four years now, so there's a lot of work to be done. In the meantime, my operation is to leave my record company, EMI. They don't work in the best of my interests. The record company owes me millions of dollars, so I'm not going to die, or get hooked on drugs, seen? I'm going to stay sane so I can get what's mine.

Q: What do you view as the current state of reggae music?

A: Well, right now reggae music is not reggae music. It's a bunch of djs talkin' and chattin' and I don't call that reggae. I don't like it. It's just talkin', chattin'. It's not singers and players of musical instruments. They use music and lyrics. A dj don't use music. He just uses riddim. Only riddim and rhyme.

Q: The last Reggae Sunsplash tour came through and they played a lot of pop-like disco or crossover reggae.

A: I don't know what is crossover, 'cause I don't know where they're goin' or how they're crossin' over to what. I hear a lot of talkin' about crossover, but I play reggae music and all the music you hear out there is influenced by reggae music, so how can reggae cross over when all the music out there, they are the ones that crossed over to reggae. Not reggae crossover to them. Reggae was before them. And that's what history has proven. These Western propagandists, the ones who try to make their shit look right, these are the ones who talk this shit. We were playin' reggae music for thousands of years, not just in the 19th or the 20th century, when the blues came around and these things came around. And if you listen you will hear a song that was sung hundreds and hundreds of years ago: "By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion/Where the wicked put us away in captivity and require from us a song." Don't forget that. Yes. It mean a lot. History has proven that we are the original musicians of the earth. The heartbeat.

Q: Every time I see a picture of you, you have a pipe or you're smoking. The association of herb and reggae music, has it done good or bad for reggae?

A: Herb and reggae has done good for me. Those ministers of propaganda and I say it again to the public, these are the ones who try to keep us from these things. We are constitutionally, where I am concerned, where the United Nations is concerned, herb for me is legitimate, legal and loyally righteous, seen? 'Cause on the first declaration, the U.N. declaration gives every man the right to administer his religion. They know what amendment that is under. The same amendment gives me right to smoke herb. In Trinidad, Indians don't go to jail for herb. I am sick and tired of hearin' them talking about ganja and reggae music and tryin' to classify herbs as drugs.

Herb is not drugs. No one ever been hooked on herb. You cannot be hooked on herb. Seen? And herb never done no brain damage to no one who smoke herb. Herb is no steppin' stone to no drugs. The reason why people take drugs when they take herb is because they were tryin' to find a solution to what you would say darkens the light of what they seen inside of them. They are havin' inner conflict and when that inner conflict lights up within them, they think when they're on this trip of drugs, assumin' herb was drugs they took herb. When they realized that herb does not hide away their inner shit, then they realize that herb amplifies that shit and brings it out more. So when they take crack and all of those things that get you down that's what happens to destroy the earth, seen?

And I am not going to sit down and let no bureaucratic pirate tell me I am smokin' herb and I'm a junkie and I am influence your children to take drugs. I don't take drugs. And to classify what I take as drugs is dangerous propaganda. And you can be charged for that and the charge is death. All the governments of the world have been using herb for scientific experiments. In Jamaica, they have found out that herb is the best cure for glaucoma. So I don't want them tell me a bag of ras clot shit, because it's all over the world.

Q: I haven't got to meet you in person but you seem like an intense guy.

A: Every time. I am like lightning, earthquake and thunder, me brother. You have to be this way or else they'll bury you and call you a fuckin' hero.

Q: Why did you write the song "No Nuclear War"?

A: The situation the world is in. The world is being held ransom by what they call two superpowers. Seen? Russia and the United States. And as defender of the universe, I don't hope to or intend to sit down and play dumb. I am a spokesman for the Almighty. When I speak, it's just a warning, 'cause He will not speak. He will take planes out of the air like the one that happened last night and they don't know what caused it. And lots of tornadoes and disasters that guys cannot investigate. So, because of the disaster and destruction that lies ahead in my Father's kingdom and work that has to be done, it is my duty to let them know, irrespective of how destructive they think they are, they are not as destructive as the Almighty.

Q: There's still someone more powerful than them.

A: Seen.

Q: I don't want to make you mad but the song "Fight Apartheid," it seems a lot of musicians and singers sing this, but does a song really fight apartheid?

A: Uh huh. "Fight Apartheid" is the struggle. It's the ancient, traditional black-white struggle. Apartheid is the shitstem. Apartheid is here in America. It's all over the fuckin' world. Seen? But for what's goin' on, especially in South Africa, it's I and I duty to let it be known that it's dirty and stinks and obnoxious and it's time for a change.

Q: So, in your opinion, a song does help fight apartheid?

A: Yes. And it help to motivate the mind that fight apartheid.

Q: Keeps people thinking about it.

A: Yes, every time. It is my duty to do that.

Q: In the song "Vampire," who is the vampire?

A: Well, you know of them. These are the ones who suck the blood of the innocent ones. Invisible vampires, because according to technology, vampires don't come out and bite your neck anymore. They cause a plane to crash or something destructive to happen that blood have to spill and those invisible vampires will still get their meals. It shall be eradicated.

Q: When you come up with the ideas for your songs, how did you go about writing them? Words, melody, or how do you write your tunes?

A: Them come many ways. I do it a variety of ways. Sometimes, I just sing them. Sometimes, the melody comes. Sometimes, the song. If the melody comes, I put words to it. If the words come, I put a melody to it, because I am the architect.

Q: Each song has a full sound to it. Horns, backup vocals. There's a lot of stuff going on.

A: Yeah mon. That's the way reggae music must be made, because if it's not made that way, then it will not get that international acceptance. Seen? This is no influence of nothin'. It's a divine inspiration. If you listen to all the records the people play what they call reggae music, my music is totally different. What I play comes out of me. Full sound. Orchestral.

Q: I can also hear the influence of the church.

A: What do you mean? I am the church. The first church. The church was influenced by I, but because of Western theology and demonology and all kinda ology they continue to make it like we have been influenced by the church. But we come to turn that around, 'cause the church was born out of me.

Q: What are the symbols on your undershirt and armbands on the album cover?

A: Rastafari, Word, Sound and Power. Ethiopian. Amharic. Our language.

Q: "in My Song": What's that about?

A: What that song talk about, that song speaks of everything you want to hear, 'cause I tell you why I sing about it, 'cause most singers just sing about "darlin' I love you" and everything they sing about the woman. I sing about the Almighty. First reverence and respect is due unto him. All praises belonging unto Him. And as servant of Him and as a defender of the universe, it is my duty musically to make music that decorate His high honor and can be internationally accepted like you will love that one.

Q: What are the lessons you've learned in your life?

A: Daily, my lessons I can't tell you about them, because my lessons, I'm getting them together to document them and make my own book, 'cause there's so many lessons, you know.

Q: "Be careful of your friends" is one you mentioned in your song.

A: Tell me one person who hasn't been deceived by his friend.

Q: That's the easiest person to deceive because you already have his trust.

A: Very good! I always have to keep my antenna up.

Q: "Testify": What's that about?

A: As I was just talking about-giving praise to the Almighty. Giving thanks for what He has done. For his protection "walking through the valley of the shadow of death." 'Cause only with his ultimate guidance can I be alive today.

Q: "Come Together" is everyone uniting, right?

A: Very good. When I say "Come Together," I'm talking about Africans comin' together, not everybody, 'cause everybody together it don't fuckin' work. Africans comin' together. Yeah mon.

Q: I interviewed Big Youth and he wanted to know why blacks fought against whites, but more than that, why blacks fought blacks.

A: That is part of the plan. See, when these pirates came, they designed their system to divide and conquer. And whatever it takes to divide and conquer is what is still workin' today. Seen? The blame is on the black man. It's religion and politricks that divide our people. Seen? And our people have been divided for years under this shituational, religionistic, tricknological bullshit. But it's through the generations that we have to be observers, see what's goin'on to learn how to diagnose the symptoms to extract the disease and the germs from out of it, 'cause so much things going on in the world. What can we do more than like I said to you but warn people? They don't care what happens to each nation designed by Satan. And if it start to move ahead, it is destroyed, because Satan does not come to unite. He comes to divide. Yes.

Reggae and African Beat magazine, vol. 6, no. 5, 1987