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Reggae Icon Jimmy Cliff Interview
This interview with reggae icon Jimmy
cliff was done by the Guardian UK, which I have transcribed for those who like reading, if you
don't, the interview can be easily found on YouTube. Jimmy Cliff is a great reggae artist and so is
this interview. Hope you enjoy it.
G: So Jimmy cliff I want to start by asking,
when did you first know you could sing?
Jimmy Cliff: (Laughs) I don't know if
I was so conscious of it. However, the first time my mother pushed me out and I went ahhhh! I knew I
had it. But I use to sing in church and I was maybe six years old, and I attracted people to the church. To hear
this little boy sing, they use to fill the church up, then I knew.
G: And was it the church
those sounds that you first heard, when you were growing up?
Jimmy Cliff: Well there was the
church, there was always music for everything in Jamaica, whether it be funeral, weddings, digging, working,
there was a type of music for everything you know. There was music everywhere, so all of those forms of music
had an impact on me.
G: Where did the ideas
come from, who were you kind of looking to or listening to, that kind of helped to inform you as a song
Jimmy Cliff: The first time in school
that I wanted to write a song, I heard a song on the radio by a local artist, Derrick Morgan and they said he
wrote his songs himself. So I asked my woodwork teacher, how do you write a song? He said you just write
said oh ok. So I just wrote a song and then I listen to people from aboard who we call foreigners, like
Smiley Lewis, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and they were very inspiring.
G: I mean, I was just
thinking about many Rivers to Cross, obviously one of your great songs, and I can't quite believe you wrote
it when you were 21!
Jimmy Cliff: Yes
G: There is a lot of hurt
in that song for a 21 year old.
Jimmy Cliff: I had big aspiration and
dreams and when I left Jamaica and came to the UK, at one point it seems as if the aspirations and dreams were
not really coming through, so I guess all of those desperation and hurt, and all that, was incorporated in that
song, and when I write a song, normally I write about my own experiences, but I always see all the people, the
life and the world in it, so I incorporated some of those in it too.
G: Going to your new
album Rebirth, what's
interesting, it actually sounds like a classic Jimmy Cliff album. It doesn't sounds like
it's a rebirth, it sounds like you're back to doing what you always did.
Jimmy Cliff: When I finished the
album Wonderful World Beautiful People, that had on Vietnam and all those songs, it had great critical acclaim, and I remember one
of the print media here in the UK saying respectability to reggae and all of that. However, I did not
continue on that path, and so I really got some flak for that. Some critics and all of that and fans, from
everyone. Why didn't you continue? Why don't you continue on the same reggae path? I went and do mostly shows in
the United States in the south and I made a new album called Another Cycle. So in the back of my mind I always
knew I had to complete that chapter. So when I went into the studio with Tim Armstrong, he played me a track
without any voice, the sound took me right back to the beginning of the music and I said ah! This is where I
want to go; this is where I should go.
G: And am right in saying
that you used vintage music equipment to make the album?
Jimmy cliff: Absolutely right, and
again that is all kind of attributed to Tim Armstrong. Who you know is a reggae
connoisseur. So he had all the instruments that we use to use then. We also recorded the songs
in the same way we use to do it at the time. Everyone in the studio at
the same time recording it live and that's why it turned out that way.
G: And in terms of your
lyrics, a mean you're somebody who, there's a positive strain to your lyrics but, it's not kind of, it's not
bland. A mean you're talking about real things on this album, you're talking about
homelessness, poverty, etc. So this is an album that's looking out to the world as well isn't
Jimmy Cliff: I grew up in a condition
where I could have chosen to go either way, negatively or positively. So I kind of chose to go
positive and that stayed with me through my life, always have to have a positive outlook on whatever situation
there is and so it comes out in my music.
G: You performed with Paul Simon recently, you've performed with Bruce
Springsteen I think in South by South West as well. It's interesting that your music kind of crosses and has
appeal to people beyond and outside the world of reggae. What do you think that is? Is it something to do
with your attitude? Is it something to do with lyrics? Why is that stuff crossing over like
Jimmy Cliff: When I started out in
Jamaica I was inspired by music from Latino (Latin America), mainly from Cuba, then R&B mainly from New
Orleans, then jazz especially New Orleans jazz and blues and country and then when I came to the UK, I was
opened up to a whole other world of music again. So all of those influences of music, have stayed with me.
Am the type of artist who, am always looking forward, looking for the new, looking for the fresh with an ears
and eyes open for that. All the inspirations, all the influences that I have gathered through my journey in
life, they all come out in my music and so that's why everyone can gravitate and feel some part of their
experience in what I say or do.
G: When it comes to Rebirth,
from what I've read, you're quite ambitious in terms of, you want everything in a sense, you wanna be playing
to the stadiums, what are your hopes for the album? Do you wanna
bring a new audience to yourself?
Jimmy Cliff: A new audience and I hope to attract the audience that was already there, you know the
reggae purist that have been complaining, saying where is the reggae? Where is the music that I use to
hear? So I want to attract them and attract a new audience, and say
hey look here is something fresh you can listen to and relate to some of things I am talking about.
Whether it be social comments or relationship, family relationship or you know one
to one relationship, yeah all of those.
G: What do you think of
reggae music today, it seems to have lost some of that consciousness that you have.
Jimmy Cliff: That's what I was saying,
that the reggae purist, the people who use to love reggae for that reason, for the consciousness, the positive
consciousness, the uplifting consciousness, they've been saying where is it, where is it
gone? So I think that they will see that its very much alive in this
album. So reggae today, a lot of it is still there, you know there are people in Jamaica who
is still doing it like Tarrus Riley or Queen Ifrica. However, there is another side to the reggae music which we call
dancehall. It seems to be having more prominence than the roots and culture, so it's still
G: And dancehall is more
hedonistic isn't it?
Jimmy Cliff: So actually it's called
dancehall, but I call it girls and cars and super stars. That's what it is singing about. There's room for
everything, but I think people need to be uplifted and show the positive side of things. Yah.
G: Jimmy Cliff thank you
Jimmy Cliff: Thank you very much
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