Peter Tosh is a platinum-selling Grammy award winning artiste and is one of the most talented reggae musicians to emerge from Jamaica. He got his claim to fame from the Wailers, a trio which also consisted of Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. Peter Tosh was born in 1944 in Westmoreland, Jamaica’s most western parish and his life was brought to a brutal abrupt end in 1987 after a home break-in and robbery-turned-murder. Tosh had a rough start with an unstable family background, shuffled around from relative to relative based on circumstances but his musical talent emerged early despite the upheavals. Tosh is a self-taught guitarist and keyboardist who got his first real taste of music and performing when he moved to Trench Town as a teenager and met his fellow band-mates in the early 1960s. He taught them how to play, and they dabbled in ska and rocksteady before finding their calling in reggae, infusing their tunes with spiritual and political messages from their newfound conversion to the Rastafari faith. By 1974 the group dismantled and the split wasn’t entirely amicable, centred around producer Chris Blackwell who took a liking to Bob and allegedly meted out unfair treatment and disproportionate payments to Bunny and Tosh, but each artiste went on to form successful careers. An extremely militant singer and personality with often hardcore lyrics, Tosh didn’t achieve the same degree of superstardom as Bob Marley but he did very well for himself with global success and was affiliated with some of the world’s leading musicians, most notably the Rolling Stones. Thus, it’s fitting that the “Stepping Razor” finally has his own museum.
Centrally located at the Pulse Centre on Trafalgar Road in New Kingston, the Peter Tosh Museum is pretty easy to find. The museum was officially opened to the public on November 1, 2016 and ticket prices are $2,000JMD for locals, US$20 for foreigners and $500JMD for local students in groups of 10 or more. Opening hours are Mondays to Fridays from 9:30am–6pm, and Saturdays from 10am–6pm. I had wanted to visit this museum shortly after its inception but I struggled to put together a group of 10 interested friends with university IDs, and eventually forgot about that desire. Thus, I was pretty excited when Brawta Living put out a coupon where tickets cost $1,049.00, a 53% discount.
My desire to visit this museum stems from my mother’s love of Peter Tosh– it’s so weird, my mother doesn’t smoke marijuana nor support its legalization but she fiercely loves this man so I wanted to know more about him. She holds the opinion of several older Jamaicans that Tosh is actually a better musician than Marley, but that Blackwell’s unfair promotion of him over the other members of the trio propelled his career. Whether or not that is true, what’s certainly correct is that without Tosh there would be no Bob Marley & the Wailers as he taught the others to play the guitar and keyboard as a self-taught musician, and he was also a talented songwriter whose lyrics brought the band to fame.
The museum details his life succinctly from birth, early life and successes to superstardom. It steers away from the controversial bits like his womanizing and string of illegitimate children. Here are some interesting curios I saw at the museum. Note: Photography and recording is prohibited inside the museum, so pardon the absence of pictures.
- His unicycle, or rather inicycle as he called it. Tosh became fascinated with and picked up the hobby of unicycling while on tour in the United States because he thought mastering how to balance on a single wheel took great mental and physical strength, and mind-body connection is one of the tenets of Rastafari. While it took some getting used to, he eventually mastered unicycling well enough to enter his concerts on the wheel, much to the amusement of fans. In fact, the unicycle eventually became his trademark.
- His M16 rifle guitar. In 1983, while on tour in Los Angeles, a local musician presented Tosh with a custom-built guitar in the shape of an M16 rifle as a gift, which he accepted personally. The guitar was subsequently lost by the airlines when the tour went to Europe but was eventually recovered and he went on to perform on stage with the guitar. The way how Tosh treasured this guitar is a reflection of his militancy and eccentricity. Many replicas of this guitar exist but the original is found at his museum.
- A pair of African elephant tusk ivory carvings which Tosh received as a gift while on tour through Africa. The ivory trade is now illegal because it’s cruel and absolutely ridiculous to kill a 5-tonne elephant just to harvest a pair of tusks. These are at least 40 years old and likely before any imposed ban, but I’d like to hope these were not obtained from poaching. It was oddly interesting to admire the beauty of these now prohibited carvings.
- An alligator skin leather bag, another gift Tosh received on the mother continent. The detail on this bag was remarkable.
- A pair of custom-made microphones from Mick Jagger.
Some interesting facts about Peter Tosh, several I’d known before while others were new to me:
- Tosh learned to play organ and sang in the choir at church during his childhood. He built his first guitar from a sardine can, then went on to master the melodica and percussion instruments.
- Tosh’s use of marijuana and militant lyrics made him a favorite target of the Jamaican police, from whom he received multiple severe beatings and was even imprisoned on multiple occasions.
- Tosh released seven studio albums and a series of live albums. He won a Grammy for his 1987 album ‘No Nuclear War’, posthumously awarded in 1988. He also posthumously received the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s third highest national honour in 2012. It’s uncertain how he would’ve felt about the honour, given his attitude towards the government which he nicknamed the ‘Babylon shitstem’ but nonetheless, it’s certainly an honour to be awarded by your country.
- April 20 is celebrated as Peter Tosh Day. Coincidence? I think not.
It’s unfortunate that it took nearly two decades after his passing for a museum to be established in his honour, but better late than never. My tour guide Jerome made the tour come alive for me and we shared an interesting conversation about Tosh and the direction of reggae and dancehall. I always find myself alone on these reggae tours in Kingston, much like at the Tuff Gong Studio two years ago but that’s fine. I don’t mind having a museum all for myself. 🙂
I’d also love to see a statue of Tosh erected outside his museum but for now, we’ll just enjoy taking photos next to the museum’s brightly coloured façade. It’s obvious Tosh’s Museum is nowhere close to as supported as Bob Marley’s museum, and it does pale in comparison. However, the Marley tour has been around for five times as long making it unfair to compare the two, but I do hope the museum continues to grow. The legend of Peter Tosh is gaining traction and his legacy certainly deserves it. At present, I rate the museum three stars out of five ☆☆☆.
‘Til next time. ✌🏽
Read next: Trench Town Culture Yard.
Learn more about Peter Tosh and his foundation via his website here.