African Spirit: A Tribute To Peter Tosh in Belmont, Jamaica

“Don’t care where you come from
As long as you’re a black man
You’re an African

No mind your nationality, You have got the identity of an African

‘Cause if you come Trinidad
And if you come from Nassau
And if you come from Cuba
You’re an African”

– Peter Tosh, African

On Sunday, February 27, 2011, Jamaicans flocked from around the island to the town of Belmont, in southern Jamaica, to celebrate the late, great Peter Tosh. Peter Tosh is considered by many to be as legendary an artist as his fellow Wailers band member Bob Marley, and many even believe that while Tosh received far less recognition for his talent, he was the one who revolutionized reggae and taught Marley all that he knew. Just on the heels of the island-wide Bob Marley birthday bashes in February, this free concert and festival was held at the Peter Tosh Memorial site and hosted by the radio station Irie FM.

It was a day full of Rastafari vibes with beautiful African costumes all around (mostly Ethiopian traditional clothes and colors, and some in West African ones). A general spirit and ambience of love and unity. It’s the root of why I love Jamaica more than any other Caribbean island – because I am reminded of where I come from when I am here, and because it is appreciated. Because this island discusses and celebrates its African roots.  Jamaicans (those of African ancestry) don’t ignore where they come from. They don’t pretend to have been to Africa either and most can’t afford it, but they wish that one day they could go and see. They read or educate themselves in the meantime. Like the saying goes, you can’t know who you are or where you’re going unless you know where you come from.

When there’s an African celebration somewhere, I strive to find a way to go and capture it because I, too, am an African. Born and raised. I treasure the advantage and blessing of experiencing and growing in my background and culture. It makes me who I am today. And in a time when many people still don’t know what Africa is like, or where it is, or assume it is a “hell hole” – even in 2011 – I feel like I must share our culture, through my lens. New York Times photographer and author Chester Higgins, Jr., whom a friend introduced me to, once advised me to “shoot what makes my heart smile.”

This is one of those things that makes me smile: capturing the spirit of an African.

More images from the Peter Tosh Tribute day will be posted on my Flickr stream.

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