Music has been defined as an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and colour. For someone to be referred to as a music superstar they must embody all what music expresses. There are musicians and there are those who are born to sing because they are born to win. It is indeed quite unique as a musician, to have given the world songs that have left not only an indelible impression in people’s lives but a legacy that will stand the time of history and position you as one of the greatest musical geniuses of our lifetime.
The world has been blessed with the talent of a great man who throughout his successful musical career has remained humble and dignified as his music touched the lives of so many who grew up listening to his fundamental reggae. Jimmy Cliff gave the world ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ and ‘The Harder They Come’ that exposed his amazing talent and propelled him to stardom at a time when black musicians were still trying to find a place in the white dominated music industry. Jimmy Cliff has a poetic knowhow that he has called upon time and again to produce some outstanding music that lives in the soul life of so many of his fans around the world.
Cliff is credited for introducing Bob Marley to the world of music and helped launch his career. He was recently asked when did he first meet Bob Marley, and this is what he had to say: I had my career going a few years. I was what is called today A&R—but we didn’t know it was called that then—at the record company. And one day Desmond Dekker came along, and Desmond Dekker used to work with Bob at the same place as welders. And Desmond told Bob that he met this guy, Jimmy Cliff, who helped him to get his song recorded, and said ‘Why don’t you go and see him’? So Bob came and I listened to the songs, and we liked three of the songs, and we recorded the three songs,: “Judge Not,” “One Cup Of Coffee,” and “Cheer Up.” And that was the beginning of his career.
Jimmy Cliff was born (James Chambers) in Jamaican. A reggae singer, musician and actor and is the only currently living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. He is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as “Sitting in Limbo”, “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, and “Many Rivers to Cross” from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come which helped popularize reggae across the world. And his covers of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” from the film Cool Runnings. Outside of the reggae world, he is probably best known for his film appearance in The Harder They Come. Jimmy Cliff was one of 5 performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
I still have memories of Jimmy Cliff’s maiden visit to Sierra Leone in 1977, when as a young boy my father had introduced his music to us with a constant morning of waking up to ‘Remake the World’. On reflection, it must have been an audible reminder to himself and us to make a difference to the world in which we live in. Cliff epitomises everything music and radio stations around Europe and the United States may have deprived their listening public of the amazing voice and lyrics of this musical genius by not dedicating more air time to someone who I consider to be the best musician of all time. Those who have been fortunate to listen to most of his songs will tell you that their collection of CD’s and Vinyl’s of this great man of rhythm cannot be traded for anything in the entire world. He has left an indelible impression in the world of music and his contribution to reggae, pop and rock music will ultimately define his legacy!
First published on Newstime Africa - 7th March, 2011
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