Online Reggae Magazine


Articles about reggae music, reviews, interviews, reports and more...

Interview: Jimmy Cliff, Reggae Rebel

Interview: Jimmy Cliff, Reggae Rebel

Interview: Jimmy Cliff, Reggae Rebel

By on - Photos by Aram Kilimli - 1 comment

The music veteran tells Davina Morris that society needs to go back to old school values, and explains why The Harder They Come could have a sequel!


He is still celebrated for his role as headstrong country boy Ivan Martin in the iconic Jamaican film 'The Harder They Come'. And as it turns out, Jimmy Cliff is just as determined as the character he played over 30 years ago.

The reggae veteran, who shot to international stardom with hits including Many Rivers To Cross and You Can Get It If You Really Want – both of which featured in 'The Harder They Come' – was always clear about what he wanted to achieve. In fact, he even disobeyed his own father to pursue his career.

Jimmy Cliff

“I’ve always done what I wanted to do, not just in my career, but in my life,” says the Jamaican-born star. “When my father sent me to Kingston to go to school, I just quit school and started doing music, which is what I loved! My father wasn’t happy at the start, but when he saw that I was enjoying success with music, he just said that God gave me the gift.”

Cliff considers where his rebellious spirit came from.

“Well, my mother was Maroon,” he says. “And if one knows the history of the Maroons, one will know that they fought against the British and they had guerrilla tactics. In the end, the British had to make a treaty with them and give them their own portion of land. That portion of land still exists today. So I guess I get some of my spirit from my mother.”

“But my father was also very stubborn; he had his own mind and he made his own way. My paternal grandfather was quite wealthy and my father was his only child. When my grandfather passed on, automatically everything went to my father. But my father said, ‘If he’d wanted me to have it, he would have told me’. So yes, my father was quite stubborn and proud. And I think I’m a little like him, as well as being a bit like my mother.”

Reflecting on his own childhood, 62-year-old Cliff feels that the traditional values he grew up with could benefit modern day society.

Jimmy Cliff“When I was a youngster, I saw every mother as a mother and every father as a father. So if I misbehaved, any parent could catch me and scold me. Similarly, if I was in need of something, any parent could supply that need. So the community as a whole took care of the children. That concept is one that was brought over from the Motherland. If that concept was continued today, I believe we would have a better society.

“Evidently, things aren’t working as they are. Take Britain… when I first came to England, police didn’t carry guns. But I recently read that England is one of the world’s most violent countries. That’s unthinkable to me. So things need to change; we need to go back to the way things were.”

Still, life as it is now is pretty sweet for the much-loved singer. Not only is he gearing up for the release of his new album, 'Existence', he was also inducted into the world-renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“That was certainly a welcome achievement. I almost see it as the final scene in act one of my career – I’m just starting act two. And normally act two is the bigger part.”

With a career that has spanned over 40 years, it seems remarkable that Cliff feels he’s only just beginning “act two.” Still, the star is adamant that he’s got plenty more to achieve.

“Act two will see me taking my music to another level and it begins with my new album 'Existence', which was recorded in Jamaica. What it deals with is our existence here on this planet, economically, socially and politically. I’ve tried to put a positive spin on things in a bid to help people appreciate their lives. I’m hoping to release it in the summer. But also, my first love was acting so I’m hoping to do lots more movies.”

Indeed, it’s almost impossible to think of Cliff and not think of his hit 1972 film 'The Harder They Come'. The movie, directed by the late Perry Henzell, was of course adapted into a play, which debuted in London in 2006 and went on to enjoy several successful runs in the UK.

Now, the production is set to return to the UK stage for a tour that will see the fantastic musical hit cities including Nottingham, Birmingham and Cardiff.

“Before Perry Henzell passed away [in 2006], we’d tried to get the story done on Broadway,” Cliff says. Jimmy Cliff“And though that didn’t happen, we always knew that it had the potential to be a great play because of the music. So its success in the UK isn’t surprising, but it’s still wonderful that it’s done so well.”

Anyone familiar with the classic Jamaican tale will know of the misfortune that befalls the central character, Ivan. With dreams of musical aspirations, Ivan soon discovers the shady side of the music industry and is lured into a life of violence and crime, which has tragic consequences.

Still, many felt that the film’s ending was too heartbreaking; that although Ivan had entered into a world that forced him to commit terrible crimes, he was still the hero that you rooted for right ‘til the end.

Cliff chuckles: “It’s funny you should say that because during the making of the film, I said to the director that Ivan didn’t have to die. But the director said, ‘He might have been presumed dead, but you didn’t see him get buried.’ So who knows, there could well be a part two!”

And who would Cliff like to see playing his role if ever there was a sequel?

“I guess I would play it… but of course, it would have to be set years later!”

Share it!

Send to Kindle
Create an alert

Read comments (1)

Posted by Nabby Clifford on 05.31.2010
Jimmy Cliff the best.

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

Recently addedView all

Var - Poor and Needy
27 Sep
Mortimer - Lightning
11 Aug

© 2007-2024 United Reggae. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Read about copyright

Terms of use | About us | Contact us | Authors | Newsletter | A-Z

United Reggae is a free and independant magazine promoting reggae music and message since 2007. Support us!

Partners: Jammin Reggae Archives | Jamaican Raw Sessions | Guide nature - Traversées de la baie du Mont Saint-Michel | One One One Wear