When we talk of Jimmy Cliff, we are talking about an indisputable essential part of the history of Reggae and Jamacan music. Born James Chambers in St. Catherine, Jamaca, April 1, 1948, the artist who now resides in New York has just celebrated his 60th Birthday yet his energy still remains unstoppable and infectuous.
Jimmy Cliff’s musical career started at the beginning of the 60s, when Reggae was just beginning its journey and practically nobody outside of Jamaica had even heard of Bob Marley, The Skatalites or Peter Tosh. It was an era of great change in the Jamaican political situation, having deservedly attained independence from England, and music expressed how the people sensed this change. Ska was born, as well as Uptempo and the Upbeat rhythm.
The Sound System was, and is, an integral part of Jamaican social life, especially amongst the working class, for who it represented the only entertainment and possibility of social interaction.
Jimmy Cliff’s first success in Jamaica was “Hurricane Hattie”, produced by Leslie Kong, who stayed with Cliff his entire career until he died in 1971.
Cliff moved to Great Britain in 1964 and signed with Island Records, becoming one of the first ambassadors of Reggae and Ska in the whole world. With more than twenty albums cut, his acclaimed appearance in the film which promoted reggae over Europe and the U.S., ‘The Harder They Come’ (1972, Perry Henzell), plus numerous collaborations with musicians from around the world, Jimmy Cliff has become the true “GODFATHER OF REGGAE” (taking Marley to be the “Father of Reggae”). It was during this period that he also wrote “You can get it if you really want”, popularised by Desmond Dekker, “Let your Yea Be Yea” for The Pioneers, a small hit for Millie Small called ‘Honey Hush’, Cat Steven’s great classic “Wild World” and “Many Rivers to Cross”, which talks of the spiritual feeling that envelops many Jamaican artists.
After a period in Africa, coinciding with his conversion to the Muslim faith, he returned to the music world in 1983 with “Power & The Glory” (CBS, 1983), which he recorded alongside Kool & The Gang. The record “Black Magic” (Artemis, 2004), which brought his music together with electronic sounds and saw the participation of such people as Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox and Sting, gave his career a new push, achieving a very potent, live Soul-Reggae-Funk sound.
Artists of the stature of Joe Cocker, Madness, Willie Nelson, New order, Wyclef Jean, Yannick Noah, the Jamaican Tony Rebel, Steeley and Cleevie, Bounty Killer, Spice, Hawk Eye, Nadz, Tessane Chin and Bruce Springsteen have all made versions of his work.
However, his concerts are not just Roots music; they are true stage sets with dance, rhythm, soul and a solid idea of Liberty and political compromise. Referring to himself as an ‘activist-artist’, he has made the soundtrack for the Sandinist Front of the Nicaraguan National Liberation and created an anti-Vietnam war hymn, which was described by Bob Dylan as the best protest song ever written. Definitively, Jimmy Cliff is a true icon of musical history and his concerts in Spain last July did in no way defraud the public: July 11th in La Riviera in Madrid, the 18th at the Festival Cruilla de Cultures de Mataro in Barcelona and the 19th at the Festival Belarreggae in Amorebieta, Vizcaya.
With great pleasure, we attended the concert which took place in the Parque Central in Mataro, once again, within the Festival Cruilla de Cultures; an unbeatable setting, surrounded by nature and with the inspiring presence of a full moon illuminating the night. There was a very favourable atmosphere and, without being overcrowded, there was a good number of people of different ages and styles, very much involved with the music.
Ay 21h, local group THE PEPPER POTS (www.thepepperpots.com // www.myspace.com/thepepperpots) opened the stage. Three female vocalists and eight musicians from Girona who, with their fresh, uncomplicated sound, transported us to the sounds and aesthetics of the Jamaican bands of the 60s who broke the dance floors with their repertoires of the best Rocksteady, Ska, Soul and Early Reggae.
They were followed at 22:15h by GREEN VALLEY (www.myspace.com/greenvalleyband), a project the Victorian Ander Valverde began 10 years ago in the Basque country and which he developed in Barcelona. In the beginning it was just him and one DJ, but he decided to set up this band and give a lot more energy and strength to his pieces. And he has achieved that; his live act moved us and took us close to Reggae/Roots, Ragga and Hip Hop, with a strong, charismatic and even party attitude. His voice was good and he has been compared to artists such as Capleton, Sizzla and Buju Banton.
At 23:30h it was the turn of the long-awaited JIMMY CLIFF. The public was already impatient. His band opened the concert and one of the vocalists, Dwight Richards (also the trumpet player), accompanied them and, with the warm timbre of his voice, transported us to the Jamaican days of old. The nine impeccable musicians didn’t stop playing when finally, during the second number the great artist appeared on the stage. He radiated ENERGY, FRIENDLINESS AND A LOT OF FUNK, dressed in red from head to foot, and didn’t stop dancing or moving from one side of the stage to the other. He delighted us with many of his now legendary hits: Jamaica Time, People, World is Yours (Positive Mind), War in Jerusalem, (Ooh La, La, La) Let’s Go Dancing, You can get it if you really want, Wonderful World, Many Rivers to Cross, I can see Clearly Now, Vietnam, Wild World and Reggae Night, amongst others. His voice, still powerful (although perhaps a little tired during the second half of the concert), withstood the almost 2 hours on stage with positive strength and a lot of communication with the public. There’s also room to praise the appearance of vocalist/dancer Sandy Smith, the bass quality of Dale Haslam, the potent rhythms of Desmond Jones (drums and band leader) and the percussionist Denver Smith. The whole band was involved in a night of revival and deep emotion, coloured by a certain spirit of protest.
As the selfsame Doctor Jimmy Cliff would say:
“PEACE AND LOVE WE GAVE TO YOU? PEACE AND LOVE YOU GAVE TO US.”
By Lady Emz
Photos; Sotero Vazquez