Jimmy Cliff is one of the most underestimated and unknown reggae artists in the world. . The singer/songwriter/actor’s career has spanned 5 decades, starting in 1962 all the way through present day, and taken him around the world and back again many times over. From his beginnings in the inner city of urban Montage Bay, Jamaica, singing in talent shows at night, to acting in – and recording the soundtrack for – the movie “The Harder They Come”, and now, experiencing a rebirth with his new album, which is produced by Tim Armstrong of Rancid/
Operation Ivy fame, Jimmy Cliff is the hardest working man in ask and reggae. Cliffs staunch support for the lower classes is unfailing, his anti-war message unchanging, his stance on environmental awareness loud. This is why he is the ideal candidate for the Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Jimmy Cliff is the constantly evolving man. Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers on April Fool’s Day, 1965 in the Somerset District of SST. Catherine, Montage Bay, Jamaica (biography). From an early age, Cliff exhibited a musical aptitude that couldn’t be denied.
But during Cliffs early holding, Jamaica was entering a time of political uncertainty and social unrest. The government was corrupt and oppressed the common man through intense economic depression. This in turn, created a very volatile social climate, in which one wrong word could result in murder . Cliffs mother, who is descended from the Maroons, a fierce, isolated and independent community descended from runaway slaves that terrorized plantation owners until 1795, raised Jimmy and his older brother Victor in a wattle-and-daub shack, complete with dirt floors (Rivers).
According to David Katz, gage chronicler and author of Jimmy Cliffs unauthorized biography, Many Rivers Crossed, Cliffs childhood of abject poverty was offset by the Eden-sis surroundings and punctuated by periods of unrest brought about by hurricanes. But these periods, in which, quite literally your world is torn apart, and the subsequent rebuilding helped to form Cliffs personality and ultimately would lead to the song that would get him noticed and signed to Island Records. At a young age, Cliffs father sent him to live in Kingston. It was here, according to Cliffs page on bio. Mom, hat Cliff started to discover his musical talents, by writing songs and entering talent contests while attending Kingston Technical High School. It was through these talent shows that Cliff came to the attention of producer Leslie Kong, for whom Cliff wrote and recorded the song “Hurricane Hattie”, about a hurricane that had recently terrorized the island of Jamaica in 1962. This song solidified a relationship that lasted until Gong’s death in 1971, and helped to forge Cliffs career and create the ask sound that defined Cliffs sound. Bio) “Miss Jamaica,” “King of Kings,” “One Eyed Jacks,” and “Pride and Passion” have since become classics of the original ask era. It was in Kingston that Cliff became the darling of the music scene. He was starting to scale the heights of fame that he dreamt about, and renamed himself for, when he was a young child. Cliff was starting to make a name for himself in the Jamaican music scene, and he was only 16. It was at this time that Jimmy Cliff was chosen to represent Jamaica at the World’s Fair.
He came to the attention of Island Records head Chris Blackwell, who convinced Cliff move to the I-J. Island Records was boning away from Jamaican music and toward a more progressive rock sound, and Cliff started to write songs that would make the cross-over (biography). By 1968, Jimmy Cliff had released a full length album, Hard Road, to much critical acclaim and commercial popularity, and in 1969 he swiftly capitalized on this by releasing the song “Wonderful World, Beautiful People. Cliff encountered much racial discrimination in London, and moved back to Jamaica, where he wrote Meant”, considered by many, including Bob Dylan who proclaimed it to be the greatest protest song he’d ever heard (artist biography). Regardless of these early successes, Cliff found that he was being overshadowed by artists such as Bob Marled, that had a milder approach and more commercial appeal. It wasn’t until Cliff was approached to write, record, and eventually star in the film The Harder They Come, that Cliffs truly saw a breakthrough.
The Harder They Come is a movie loosely based on the life of Jamaican gangster Ivanhoe ‘Rigging’ Martin. The movie follows Martin as he comes to Kingston to make it as a singer and gets swindled by record producers. Martin turns too life of crime, becoming a notorious gangster. Cliff plays the title character, raring heavily on his own experiences with gangsters while living in Kingston. Cliff states in an interview with Resume B, contributing writer for Complex Magazine, on the 40th Anniversary of the release of the movie, “For myself as an actor, the only thing I had to draw on was those experiences…
There were some parts that I didn’t know if I could manage. And I Just, I went back to West Kingston and I talked to a few of the guys… It was a guy in the barber shop, one of the bad guys was hanging out at the barber shop that I used to hang out, that was like one of the scenes he told me owe to do” (Behind). It is this awareness of the social unrest in the slums and ghettos Kingston that added to Cliffs believability in his depiction of Martin. The title track for the movie, The Harder They Come, talks about the difficulty to succeed and the struggle to survive. Well, the oppressors are trying’ to keep me down, Trying’ to drive me underground, And they think that they have got the battle won, I say forgive them Lord, they know not what they’ve done. Coos as sure as the sun will shine, I’m goanna get my share now of what’s mine, And then the harder they come, the harder they’ll all, one and all, Ooh, the harder they come, harder they’ll fall, one and all. ” (“Harder”) It’s this cry to keep pressing on, keep moving on, regardless of who’s trying to keep you down, that creates a sense of optimism. It’s about eternal rebellion and no matter how hard one may need to struggle, one can succeed.
It’s this drive to keep moving forward that inspires Cliff give back to the people around him. Jimmy Cliff is always about helping the lower classes, the little people. The Harder They Fall was a clear depiction of his desire to create social change. In Mimi Can Get It If You Really Want”, a song from the movie’s soundtrack, Cliff identifies with the lower classes. He grew up in this atmosphere. Cliff states in an interview with Seattle Times theater critic Mishaps Person, “l grew up in a negative environment surrounded by negative energy.
To get out of that I developed this positive attitude. ” This coming-of-age experience is what inspires Cliff to continually strive to bring awareness to the social atmosphere of the financially-downtrodden. His optimism for success in the lower classes is clear. “Persecution you must bear, Win or lose you’ve got to get your share, Got your mind set on a dream,You can get it, though harder they seem now’ Wow Can Get It”) This perennial sunniest is what propelled Cliff become one of the brightest stars to come out of Jamaica.
He identified with the people in the slums and ghettos of Kingston and proposed that there is a solution to their plight. His lyrics in Mimi Can Get It If You Really Want”, gave the people something to look forward to, and gave their plight a voice. However, Cliff was going through some rough times himself. The release of back-to-back albums and the filming of The Harder They Come, took a toll on Cliffs life, both physically, and commercially. He was finding it difficult to follow up and duplicate his earlier success. Cliff took a break from recording and traveled to Africa to regroup.
It is there that Cliff converted to Islam and found the inspiration for some of his most soulful work. This reawakening, however, did not translate into commercial success and Cliff moved through the sass’s without breaking into the charts. Yet none of these personal setbacks deterred Cliff from writing about the beliefs he held dear, love and Justice. In an interview with Green Left Weekly in 1993, Cliff tells writer Norm Dixon, “My main homes I’ve always written about, and I am still writing about, are love and Justice.
Not necessarily love in the one to one sense but the higher form of love ? love of life, love of humanity, love of the planet. And Justice in the social conditions of human beings, and of people coming together. These are my themes. ” These ideals, which is the basis for Cliffs life, is clear in the song, “Peace”. “How Is There Going To Be Peace, When There Is No Justice, Oh No, Oh Someone Is Taking More Than Their Share, Of The Bounties Of This Land And That’s Not Fair, So Little People Got More
Than They Need While There’s So Many Hungry Mouths In The World To Feed And I Am Would Give My Heart So True, And I Will Give My Love For You, Tell Me How Is There Going To Be Peace, When There Is No Justice Oh No, Oh Someone Is Taking My Share And They Just Don ‘t Give A Damn No They Don ‘t Care, So You Just Might As Well Face It Cause There anti No Other Way To Erase It, And I Will Give My Heart So True And I Will Give MY Love For you, Tell The lyrics depict a sense of grief over the social injustices of war, want and hunger.
In “Peace”, there are few words, but nevertheless, the emotional toll on Cliff is telling. His heart is breaking over the hunger, the wars, the pain, the grief abounding in the world. But Jimmy Cliff isn’t one to allow this to keep him down. Cliff is all about rebirth. Rebirth for Cliff is about evolving, not Just in general, but also in the ideals he holds dear. As the years have passed, Cliff has become more environmentally- conscious. This awareness of our declining environment has caused Cliff write songs like, “Save Our Planet Earth. Cliff states in Green Left Weekly, “We human beings have the resources to correct the wrongs that have been done the planet like he ozone layer If all the scientists focused their energies into doing that, rather than putting them into things like making more destructive weapons, I think we will find a way to redeem the earth. I am very much concerned about what is happening to the environment because this the place I want to live! ” Cliffs passionate sentences mirror the zeal he possesses for making the world a better place, the desire for the Earth’s people to work as one. Off better STOP cutting down the forest, STOP, you’re under arrest STOP killing out animals, STOP, you are a criminal. We want live, we want love, We want see what life is worth (we want live) The children want love, they want live, To see what life is worth (they want love) We no want no more. ” Cliff entreats the listener to come together. He cries out for us to create a world for our children, take a stand against global warming, stand up and be counted. It is both a song of mourning and a call to action. Cliff is world-renowned for his songs that are a call to action.
His ability to evolve to the world’s social and political issues is legendary. As I noted earlier, in the late sass’s, Cliffs song Vietnam” was noninsured by Bob Dylan to be the greatest protest song ever made. The original lyrics reflected his feelings about a friend of his on coming home from the in terms of a letter written by the friend to his mother. The lyrics display how war can affect an individual and how losing that person can affect us as a society. Ministered I got a letter, from my friend, fighting in Vietnam, and this is what he had to say: tell all my friends, that I’ll be coming home soon, my time ‘II be up some time in June.
It was just the next day, his mother got a Telegram it was addressed from Vietnam. Now mistress Brown she lives in the U. S. A, and this is what she wrote and said: ‘Don’t be alarmed’, she told me the telegram said: ‘but mistress Brown, your son is dead! ‘ and it came from: Vietnam” This outcry against the killing in Vietnam, the taking of boys and dropping them in the middle of a Jungle thousands of miles away, fighting against an enemy they couldn’t see, for a cause they didn’t support, equally angered and saddened Cliff. The parallels too war 50 years later, the war in the Middle East, was not lost on Cliff.
In 2011 at a concert Gluttonously, Cliff amended the words to Vietnam” to reflect the disgust he felt at the war in Afghanistan. In a concert at the Seasick, Pete Troikas, writer for Packer. Com reports that Cliff had further amended his Nineteen” lyrics to include Syria, Israel and Egypt, and Cliffs hope that the wars in the Middle East didn’t become another Vietnam. Cliff states, “Let us send a message to all the leaders of the world today. Tell them that we the people don’t want another Vietnam in Afghanistan! ” This illustrates that Cliff is as important a figure in political music today as he was 50 years ago.
His ability to keep his finger on the pulse of political and social issues is simply amazing. Jimmy Cliffs contributions to political music over the past 50 years is vast. His influences on other artists such as Paul Simon, Joe Strummed, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Springiness, Elvis Costello, and Finn Apple. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Mommy), “The Harder They Fall” was included in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone (500 Greatest), and in 2003 received Jamaican National Order of Merit (List). Cliff has often been credited to helping connect Bob Marled with Leslie Kong, Cliffs first producer (Cliff.
Cliff has also been credited with introducing reggae to an international audience (bio). Cliff chooses not to dwell on the accomplishments he has had, but on he ones he has yet to achieve. But Jimmy Cliffs career is all about coming full-circle. The topics he referenced in the sass’s are still pertinent today. The songs that he wrote about Vietnam in 1969 are Just as thought-evoking and emotional today. In a recent article for The Huffing Post blob, music business veteran and radio personality Mike Arraigns asks Cliff about how he creates music.
Cliff states, “Most of the time, it’s from my own soul, but what comes from my own soul a lot of times is kind of echoing the people. I’m like sensitive to what’s going on in the world with people and things and places, and I kind of echo that. This identification of the struggle to survive in the lower classes in Jamaica, and throughout the world, is what makes Cliff equally as relevant today as he was in the go’s. Cliff recognizes his life as a series of chapters that are always tying back into his Book of Life.
But as he states in an article written by Matthew Bennett for Clash magazine in 2012, “What I’m learning is the importance of what we did back then. I didn’t realism the importance of those early songs because my way of looking as a creative person was to move on, move forward, create new sounds, new rhythms and stay with the time, but this one s really going back. I learned that what you did back then can still have a big relevance today. ” This awareness of moving forward, while still maintaining an awareness of his roots is precisely what makes Jimmy Cliff a legend.