Friday, February 24, 2012

Peter Tosh b/w Joe Gibbs and the Professionals: Here Comes the Judge/ Judgment, 1973

This single originally came out in 1973, but from what I can tell by looking at the labels of early Joe Gibbs 45s on google images, this disc is not an original pressing. The A side, sung by Peter Tosh and a chorus of vocal actors, is about the trial of prominent Western explorers and bearers of imperialism and enslavement on Judgment Day. A court crier speaks on behalf of God as the accused protest that they were simply following orders. The B side is a lovely, unrelated instrumental track by the studio band.

Where many Western colonizers went, they tried to bring Christianity to the people they oppressed, partly in order to establish a paternalistic relationship in which they played the role of spiritual provider and compensated themselves by helping themselves to other people's labor and resources. One of the great ironies of the colonial project is that the colonizers' behavior was more Roman than Christ-like, and many imperial subjects, notably Jamaicans, became acutely aware of the incongruity. Christ told his followers to reject the material ambitions that accompany the pursuit of money because these distract people from accruing a wealth of spirit by serving God's will. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's [i.e. the money that bears his image,] and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Speaking of those who follow the path of wealth, Jesus cast doubt on their ability to dedicate a sufficient portion of their hearts to the ascetic observance of God's word, saying, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24). It was no secret to conquered people that the desire for wealth motivated their colonizers, and yet these Europeans served as agents of Christianity.

Tosh's song opens with a spoken introduction: "...because it said here comes the judge, seen? And that does not mean the judge in what they call, in our colonial judiciary system, seen? Our imperial judicial system. I mean the judge of righteousness." The performance is theatrical, at times comical, like when the actors mock the accents of the accused or when the court crier changes Columbus's name to Cumbolos, a play on the word cumbolo, which has positive connotations of togetherness but can also refer to socially malicious people. The message of the song is potent and its critique unapologetic and sharp: the rich, powerful Europeans who exploited less militarily powerful peoples may have controlled life on earth for their colonial subjects, but God will ultimately reward the righteous and punish the wicked, and his judgments last for eternity. Judgment Day is not an uncommon topic in reggae songs, especially those by artists who focus more heavily on Rastafarian themes. As much as anything else, it shows how much the religion necessitates that its close adherents be aware of the inequalities that exist across the globe, systematic and indirect as they may be today.

My apologies for the sound quality of the first cut.



  2. Hi...interestin post...and an interesting tune - similar to the Prince Buster tune Judge Dread...the riddim from the tune is from The Abyssinians - Satta Massagana - different to the riddim on the B side which is the instrumental to Sylford Walker's nice tune Jah Golden Pen