Marvin Gaye may have protested more elegantly, but “What a Gwaan,” the first single off Tosh’s fifth album, has conviction born of lineage. It’s an anthem that is as applicable to the plight of Trench Town as it is to the Greek financial crisis — a forceful, defining chant that is vintage old school reggae from the scion of one of the founders of the genre. “It is about Jamaica, but it’s really what’s happening all over the world — no money, blood running, people getting killed and exploited by the greedy,” says Tosh, the 45-year-old son of late reggae legend Peter Tosh, in an interview. The album, Eye to I, will be released this fall. Tosh who looks and sounds remarkably like his father, will preview it when he plays Toronto’s Jambana festival at Downsview Park on Aug. 6, a commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. But in 50 years of freedom, Tosh is still singing songs of protest — of economic slavery and exploitation — that his father, who taught Bob Marley how to play guitar, sang so passionately about.
“It still goin’ on. It don’t matter where you live, people take advantage, and we have to make sure they are accountable,” says Tosh.
Tosh is on the cellphone line from Kingston, Jamaica. It is late at night and he is at the house of a “brederen, chillin’ and smokin’ some weed,” while listening to Marley’s Exodus.
He is not a fan of the current state of reggae, a genre that Marley, his father Peter and Bunny Wailer revolutionized when they started a band that would change the world of music in 1963.
“The new reggae to me right now doesn’t have the same kind of substance. There is no message in the music. It has no foundation,” says Tosh.
Young people, meanwhile aren’t interested in a message — just a danceable track, he laments.
“Dancehall music to me is taking reggae to a different dimension, away from the roots,” he says.
Compared to the elegant lyricism of Marley, Tosh senior could be a blunt instrument, with in-your-face chants such as “Legalize It” and “Oh Bomboclat.” But he always had something to say.
And a larger than life persona that once threatened to overshadow the son, but one that Tosh junior now embraces.
“The expectations were heavy. But his legacy is a blessing, not a burden,” says Tosh, talking on the phone on another day. This time he is at home in Kingston, the sound of one of his seven children in the background. “My stuff is no different than my fada’s stuff, really, stylistically or musically.”
Tosh has tried to break free from the embrace of his father in the past, as he veered dangerously into becoming a one-man tribute band. There have been experiments with a more club friendly sound — but always with a “consciousness,” a story to be told. Earnest and direct, Tosh junior’s missing ingredient over the years has been his father’s sense of mischief and irony.
After all, who else would dare call Marley his “student?” Tosh junior is a less angry man. But he is also a talented one.
In 1987 Tosh was shot and killed at his St. Andrew home. He would have been 68 this year. Andrew was at a friend’s nightclub at the time.
“Around 8 p.m. somebody told me dat dem shoot him, and he was at the hospital,” says Tosh. “There was so much stuff goin’ trough my mind I couldn’t think straight. It changed my life.”
Tosh would sing his father’s ballad “Jah Guide” at the funeral. Months later, he would go out on solo tour, to a public not ready to bury the memory of Peter Tosh.
He would eventually record an album, a mix of his own tracks and Tosh senior. His follow up album Make Place for the Youth would earn him a Grammy nomination.
“It wasn’t really a plan of mine, but that’s how it happened. This was a real wake-up call,” says Tosh. “My life could have been very different.”
Tosh is on a brief pit stop at home after a European tour and gig in New Zealand where he filmed the video for “What a Gwaan.”
Tosh played his first gig in Toronto in 1989. And like his father, he rides the unicycle, which he is bringing to Jambana.
He says the city has changed since its “racist” days. And he says for the better.
“I think we are all getting along a little better. One step at a time. That’s what the music is about,” he says.
The weekend formerly — and still is, informally — known as Caribana brings an influx of tourists and an armload of events to keep them dancing. Here’s just a few of the hot concerts this weekend:
Aug. 3: Snoop Lion, Hoxton
Aug. 3: RAC, DJ Medley, Mod Club
Aug. 3: Pan Alive steel-pan event, Lamport Stadium
Aug. 4: Hard Toronto: Justice, M83, Austra, Fort York
Aug. 4: Director X’s party feat. French Montana, XS Nightclub
Aug 4.: Soca or Die event, DJ Crown Prince and more, Wild Water Kingdom
Aug. 4: Def Jam Party feat. Pusha T, DJ Self, Kool Haus
Aug. 4-5: Veld Festival, feat. Deadmau5, Avicii, more, Downsview Park
Aug. 5: OVO Fest: Drake, the Weeknd, A$ap Rocky, Molson Amph.
Aug. 5: Fire Fete soca event, Destra and more, Sound Academy
Aug. 6: Jambana feat. Andrew Tosh, Downsview