JAMAICAN music legend Jimmy Cliff has found himself spiritually reborn and artistically reinvigorated at the age of 64 with his first new album in eight years, as Patrick McDonald reports in this article for adelaidenow.com.
“That’s a really big part of why the album is called Rebirth ,” Cliff says.
Now, freshly armed with last month’s Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, Cliff is bringing that renewed musical fervour to Womadelaide.
“The last time I won one, I think it was in the ’80s,” he says. “Sometimes it looks to me as if it was just yesterday.”
Womadelaide provides a perfect platform for the man best known for his 1970s hits The Harder They Come and Many Rivers To Cross to share his sense of musical renewal.
“The other part of it is that it is the rebirth of the planet,” Cliff says. “We are coming into a new sun cycle, a new time, a new energy on the planet Earth, and it is a very exciting time.”
Cliff’s beliefs stem from the ancient Egyptian calendar.
“This was passed on to the Mayans, it was passed on to the Hindus, it was passed on to the Tibetans, it was passed on to the Babylonians and so on.”
Cliff sees it as a period of renewal – not the end of the world, as some interpreted the Mayan calendar to mean.
“The end of the world doesn’t mean cataclysmic,” he says.
“The end of the world means the end of existing systems, laws and rules.
“It’s not too good for the ones who want to hang on to the old ways – it’s a new time.” Cliff can already see change coming.
“For instance, the place where spirituality and most of the religions were born – in the Middle East – look what is happening there now. It is all bloodshed.
“Look at what’s happening with the economic system in the world. Look what’s happening to the political systems.
“It’s all clear, we are already seeing the effects of them. That’s what I mean by change.”
His new album starts with a track, World Upside Down .
There has to be a revolt and greater social justice, Cliff says.
“What we as humans can do is only so much. The cosmic evolution and revolution of things will and is dictating a lot of what goes on.”
If that sounds ominous, Cliff is “100 per cent” positive that the outcomes are going to be better for everyone.
“I said it all in the song there: So few enjoy prosperity while so many don’t see it at all. So there has to be a change for the better.”
Much of the songwriting on the album was motivated by a recent tour through Africa, which fired up Cliff’s social conscience.
“Africa is the mother of civilisation on this planet, and it’s still the richest continent … in terms of natural resources. To see so many people there in ignorance, not knowing what they have or how to enhance it for themselves – and all the poverty that’s going on – why should it be like that?”
“Those things really fire me up to write and inspire me.”
It also has been a period of rebirth for Cliff in terms of new musical collaborations and rediscovering sounds from the past.
The album was produced by Tim Armstrong from US punk band Rancid, who was recommended to Cliff by the late Joe Strummer of The Clash.
“He has such a great knowledge of reggae music,” Cliff says.
“It’s very organic – we did everything live. We didn’t go for the modern technology sound.”
Cliff’s own upbringing was “economically relatively poor”.
“But spiritually, intellectually, my father was a very smart man – like a village lawyer. He wasn’t a university graduate, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that if you spoke with him.”
Cliff’s father took him to Kingston to study radio and TV at technical school, but the youngster was quickly drawn to school plays and concerts.
“Just the reaction that I got from them – I loved the acting part of it, when I was able to become another character.”
By age 14, Cliff had started writing songs and knocked on producers’ doors until the legendary Leslie Kong finally gave him the chance to record.
“The first time I sang for Leslie Kong, he said to his other two brothers: `He’s got the best voice I ever heard in Jamaica’.
“And I said to myself: `Yes!’,” Cliff recalls.
He says world music festivals are important tools for change because of the way they bring together like-minded people.
“Most of the people there are playing constructive music … very positive, uplifting music, which is such a wonderful thing.”