Jimmy Cliff: still a musical rebel - Says Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod good for Jamaican music

Published: Sunday | September 27, 2009

Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor

Part of Jimmy Cliff's plans for the studio he hopes to complete soon include the most modern digital recording equipment and surround-sound microphone that can accommodate up to three singers at a time. It wil also have space for a band of musicians and a drum room. - Photos by Peta-Gaye Clachar/Freelance Photographer

International singer, songwriter, actor, Jimmy Cliff has been nominated among 12 artistes into next year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The other nominees are LL Cool J, Donna Summer, Darlene Love Kiss, Red Hot Chili Peppers Genesis, The Hollies and songwriter Laura Nyro, reports the Associated Press.

Rounding out the 12 are Chantels and the Stooges, who, like Summer and Love, have been on the ballot before.

Only five acts are inducted each year. The 2010 class will be announced in December ahead of the 25th annual induction ceremony on March 15, next year, in New York City. The news of the nomination was first carried by The Gleaner's Power 106 FM and streamed live on its website.

The Sunday Gleaner spoke to Cliff in New York last week Thursday night, just hours after he had heard the news. He was a guest at a reception for the Ghanaian president who was in the city for the United Nations General Assembly. In his usual calm voice, Cliff said, "It is good to be among them and I guess I will be notified officially soon. I feel honoured by the inclusion and it is a nod whether I am selected or not. If I don't get picked this time, there will be other times. This is good for Cliff, good for Jamaican music and good for my country."

exclusive peek

Jimmy Cliff sports one of his trendy glasses.

Reggae icon Bob Marley was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

In April, American Charles Earle started a jimmycliffforthehall blog after surprisingly discovering he wasn't already inducted.

"When I saw he wasn't in there I felt that was something I wanted to work towards. His contribution to pop music certainly deserves a place in the 'Hall'," Earle said at the time.

Cliff was in Jamaica recently where he completed nine of the 12 original tracks for his soon-to-be released album. On September 17, he gave The Sunday Gleaner an exclusive peek into what's to come immediately after he was fêted as the first guest in the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC) Breakfast With The Stars series held at its Arnold Road studio. The organisation is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The songs will follow the theme of man's existence on the planet at this time; where the world has fallen short of law, order and morals, and what happens when these are missing from our lives. At the moment, Cliff is yet to decide which song will be released as a single later this year, but the choice is between I Rise and Another Rebel. Listening to the lyrics of the latter, one immediately recognises the development on his old hit, The Rebel in Me. It has a catchy tune and a definitely danceable beat. Cliff's genius for capturing all that's relevant for the times is all over this one.

"The CD has all original tracks and I looked at issues such as global warming and many other topics related to our existence on planet Earth now. The ancient prophecies by our ancestors to facts from the histories of the Egyptians, the Aztecs, all predicted the present global occurrences and if we are positive and pay attention to predictions, as humans, we will be able to avoid them," he said in explaining the theme of the project.

Cliff said, however, that in spite of the negatives that abound, there are many positives. "I took the decision to continue writing songs about life," he said. "With all that's happening now, there are not many songwriters making uplifting music, but I have to do it."

Lives in Paris

Jimmy Cliff (right) greets Franklyn 'Chappy' St Juste, with whom he worked on 'The Harder They Come', at Breakfast with the Stars at Wycliffe Bennett Studio at CPTC on Thursday, September 17.

Cliff, who left the island on September 18, will return in November. He further compared the upcoming CD to touring a house from room to room in a logical order. And there is even 'room' to empower and encourage young girls on one of the tracks.

The singer, who has resided in Paris, France, for several years now with his wife and children, opted out of his regular world tour this year, to focus on writing for the album as well as preparing two movie scripts and working on building one of the first totally digital studios here in Jamaica. The studio, which is still a work in progress, upon completion will feature rehearsal rooms, a recreation area, his office and a conference room. He said he hoped to have it open to coincide with the launch of the CD.

strong characters

"When the studio is finally ready, it will be one where any top- class or small musician can be at home and assured of the best conditions for recording," he said. Cliff, who starred in the classic, The Harder They Come, has so far written two scripts about strong Jamaican characters. The first is now in the hands of filmmakers in Hollywood, California, and they have so far submitted to him three drafts of the screenplay.

"I will play the lead role. That was the big drawing card for them as well as the fact that they were impressed with The Harder They Come," he said. The script is based on the story of one of Jamaica's legendary characters. The second script has the working title Centre Stage and is based on the lives of three friends - two males and one female - who have aspirations for greatness, but have to leave the island to achieve it.

"Ironically, one of the male leads is pretty much the same as our Usain Bolt, but when I wrote the script, he had not yet come to prominence," Cliff said. The other project that is taking up his time is a book about his life and work. But it is still in the planning stage.

about Michael Jackson

On the passing of Michael Jackson, Cliff saw it, ironically, as a good thing. "I felt his pain; it was the only way he could find peace. I have been there; not to that degree, but I have been at a point in my life where everyone wanted a piece of me and I did not know who to trust. In that place, you have to ask yourself, 'Who am I? What am I really here for?'" However, Cliff thinks Jackson passed away happy, having done what he wanted to do artistically. Like all of us, he had faults, but the positives are what we should focus on, said Cliff.

promotional work

On Whitney Houston's comeback, Cliff feels that she will make it again, but needs to nurture her voice to get it back to where it was.The Harder They Come has been made into a musical and having started out in London, it was recently opened in Miami, Florida. How does Cliff feel to have reprised the character, Ivan, that is still so alive decades later? He is humbled and having done some promotional work in the Miami press, he thinks the play should be taken to New York and Los Angeles where larger groups of black people who can relate to it will see it. "Those cities have bigger Caribbean population and it did well in Toronto and London, so it makes sense to take it to them," he explained.

On family life, Cliff told The Sunday Gleaner that he is happy with his decision to finally marry six years ago and that he considers himself a lucky man. He has other offspring, but the union has so far produced two children.


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