It's always fashionable in music circles to lament the plight of reggae's gods: They were exploited, misunderstood, ahead of their time. But Peter Tosh has only himself to blame. Aside from the 1998 boxed set Honorary Citizen, there's a scarcity of recorded material with which to canonize him. This is largely due to Tosh's temperament, which was nearer to Bob Knight's than Bob Marley's. But it is also what makes Live at the One Love Peace Concert such a treasure. The disc is the long-sought-after recording of Tosh's performance at the legendary One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978. At the height of Jamaica's political violence, which included an attempt on Marley's life, the country's two warring factions declared a truce. The concert was an attempt to solidify the fragile peace and drew the country's biggest stars, including Marley, who returned from exile in England to participate in the proceedings. One of reggae's defining moments came when Marley summoned Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga to join hands. But rumor has long held that Tosh was in fact the one who stole the show.
Until now, rumor is all it was. Tosh forced a video crew to stop taping his performance, and the audio track has been tied up in legal battles since Tosh's death in 1987. But it was worth the wait. For in addition to capturing what is possibly Tosh's best live set, One Love epitomizes how reggae is, at heart, fervent political music. Part of the legend surrounding Tosh's performance was his twenty-minute verbal evisceration of Manley and Seaga in front of the entire nation. (Many believe the pair were seated in the second row -- behind 200 foreign journalists -- in order to avoid gunfire). Tosh's blistering speech is included as a track on the disc and in the liner notes. The seven other tracks here are Tosh standards and include "Stepping Razor," "Legalize It" and "Equal Rights." But the charged atmosphere infuses each of them, and combined with the brutal segues Tosh delivers to his audience, the overall feel of the disc is transcendent. As both music and historical artifact, One Love's importance is indisputable. It's reggae's equivalent of the Zapruder film.