Sat | Mar 24, 2018

The easier they come

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 12:00 AMJohn Horn
Jimmy Cliff in a famous picture from the movie, ‘The Harder They Come’.

When I was in the third grade, my eldest brother studied abroad in Paris for his third year of university. That year represented for him not only an exposure to French culture, but also an introduction to Jamaican culture, as he discovered reggae music in Paris.

When he returned from Paris with the soundtrack album of The Harder They Come, I was not only entranced by the music on the album but also had absolutely no idea how many years in the future the album would give me the ability to connect with almost any Jamaicans, as well as establish friendships and business relationships with Jamaican.

As the famous 1973 movie by Perry Henzell and its highly successful soundtrack album are largely credited for exposing the world to reggae music, both the movie and album are certainly engrained staples of Jamaican culture. However, many Jamaican are likely unaware of how the album has been responsible for opening the door to non-Jamaican about the island's culture.

As someone who has otherwise limited knowledge about Jamaica and who has never visited the island, I can attest to the power of the album. Some years ago, I vividly recall riding the subway home from work one night and seeing another passenger reading a book titled something like 'Japanese Customs and Culture for Business'. In my opinion, if a non-Jamaican wants to get in good with Jamaican people, he should listen to the soundtrack of The Harder They Come instead of reading a book tailored to give a foreigner insight into the culture as a way of advancing business prospects.

At one of my past jobs before I started in the public-relations field, my workstation was near a supervisor who was from Jamaica, and this supervisor's secretary was also from Jamaica. One day, the conversation turned to Jamaican Patois, and both of these co-workers were stunned when I asked them what "Forward and Fiaca, menacle and den gosaca" meant. They were then shocked when I started singing the lyrics to some songs on the album like Sweet and Dandy, You Can Get It If You Really Want, Draw Your Brakes, By the Rivers of Babylon, and others. From then on, we regularly quoted lyrics from the album when others were not around.

From that experience with my Jamaican colleagues, I realised not only how much the movie and the soundtrack album were part of Jamaican culture, but also how much Jamaican people still love the music from the 43-year-old album.




Since then, in all of my interactions with Jamaican people in the business world or in general, I find that The Harder They Come soundtrack is an express route to "getting in good" with them. After hearing me sing some of the album's songs, several Jamaican have been convinced that I must have lived in the country, because no one would know these things otherwise.

I have seen Jamaican people get all happy and excited when I sing lyrics from the songs because it must make them feel good that an American knows such an important aspect of their culture. For instance, many are amused that a foreigner knows the screeching utterances of Scotty grieving about his lost love in Draw Your Brakes, or the classic line from the title track song The Harder They Come: "I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave."

I first saw the movie many years after listening to the soundtrack album, and I learned many things about Jamaican culture. For instance, when Jimmy Cliff's character makes the delivery to the recording studio, there is a Chinese-Jamaican working the soundboards. I asked someone about this person of Chinese descent, and was informed about Jamaica's large Chinese population.

It is obvious to me that the soundtrack of The Harder They Come has permeated every level of Jamaican society, as the Jamaican who react so favourably to my invocation of the songs can be deliverymen, janitors, secretaries, lawyers, diplomats, university professors and doctors.

Of course, there are many books for businessman about various countries and cultures which are tailored for helping people do business in these countries. This album will not give a foreigner insight into Jamaican culture and society with specific knowledge to facilitate business.

However, what those books for businessman about Jamaican culture cannot do is give a person a sure way to start off any conversation or relationship with such positive vibe.

• John Horn is a public relations strategist with Cranbrook Strategies, LLC in Avon, Connecticut. Email feedback to and