Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff – Reggae legend.

Wednesday night sees reggae icon Jimmy Cliff playing at The Tanks. The phenomenally multi-talented artist’s career has spanned five decades, created markets and opportunities for countless other artists, and earned him the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s highest award in the field of arts and sciences.

Not bad for a kid hailing from the ghettos of St James in post-World War Two Jamaica, whose first love was acting.

Having started writing music in primary school, the somewhat precocious 14-year old fronted the Chinese Kong brothers’ record store/ice cream parlour/restaurant “Beverley’s” in Kingston right on closing time, told them they should form a record label to record him, and performed his original work titled… “Dearest Beverley.” Two of the brothers laughed. Leslie didn’t.

Ten years on and names like Joe Higgs, Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley (scouted by Cliff in his role as A&R) had been added to Kong’s label “Beverley’s,” and Jimmy himself had had hits with “Hurricane Hattie,” King of Kings, “Miss Jamaica” and “Pride and Passion.” Following Leslie Kong’s untimely heart attack in August 1971, Jimmy’s acting ambitions was realised as he was cast by Perry Henzell in the lead role of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin in the iconic reggae film, “The Harder They Come.” This more than any other movie was instrumental in bringing an understanding of the realities of independent Jamaica to the rest of the world.

Given that it’s been 40 years since the movie’s release, I asked Jimmy what life is like in his country now, and has there been enough change?

“Yes, everything has changed since the movie… our life style has changed as well as our music which evolved into a different genre called Dancehall.”

Given their popularity worldwide, I guess it’s no surprise that artists such as Rihanna have sprung from the emergence of the style and scene in their home country.

Another genre drawing from reggae much of its influence, in terms of message and lyrical content anyway, is punk, and although he has collaborated widely with artists from across the musical spectrum, I found it interesting that Cliff has recorded albums with Joe Strummer and, most recently, Tim Armstrong. But perhaps I read too much into it, when I asked if that brought something new to his sound.

“I don’t think this collaborations have brought something new to my sound but it just felt good to work with creative minds such as Joe Strummer and Tim Armstrong.”

Perhaps so, but Cliff’s most recent album has been celebrated widely as among the best work of his career. I mentioned that, and asked, “does the name ,”Rebirth,” imply there is even better to come?”

“Yes definitely! I’ve recorded some new songs in Jamaica just before this tour and I am working on a movie for next year.”

Lightly he may have touched on it, but the movie is a sequel to “The Harder They Come,” and has been a plan of Jimmy’s for over 40 years. In another recent interview he said he hoped filming would commence at the end of the year, and that a brand new collaborative soundtrack is in the works. Given the legacy of the first film’s soundtrack, it will be well worth looking forward to.

Given the length of his career you would think just dropping into Australia for a couple of Bluesfest shows would be sufficient, but it turns out Jimmy is playing something like 16 dates in just over three weeks. I asked Jimmy how he keeps up with such a demanding workload.

“I am taking care of myself, 30 mins cardio (almost) everyday. I eat healthy and of course I try to get enough sleep but what’s most important is I love what I do!”

Finally I mentioned that Bluesfest’s iconic status as a festival for those of us in Australia, and asked, as his show in Cairns is at a much more intimate venue, what can we expect from his show here?

“Cairns is very special to me. The last time I came here I had a very warm welcome from the Yarrabah community. I remember doing 2 shows and both of them were unforgettable because I really felt something special, I really had a strong connection with the crowd.”

“I will do some of my new songs as well as some classics like “The Harder They Come,” or “You Can Get It If You Really Want.”

Certainly sounds like it will be a special show. Tickets from ticketlink, be very quick!

Jon Niehaus

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