The Kaje talks performance to Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff is without any doubt a living legend. Having been at the forefront of the reggae movement, Cliff has tried his hand and succeeded at everything from acting to producing. His high-profile collaborations include everyone from Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen and he shows no signs of slowing up. With the Ragamuffin Festival bringing him to Australia, The Kaje jumped at the chance for a fifteen minute meander down memory lane… 

Your career as spanned over fifty years, what keeps you going?

I think that everyone comes into this planet with a purpose, we really need to find out and realise what our purpose it. My purpose for being here is to do what I am doing. There is nothing else I enjoy doing, there is nothing else I would rather be doing. I just keep doing it.

I have never lost love for it, in fact I love it more. The thing is, we all have a purpose in life, we didn’t just come here aimlessly. We all have a purpose why we are here. Once one finds what ones purpose is, then one can really do what they are doing and do it with joy. My purpose for doing this area of the arts, acting, singing, writing, producing, all of that is really fulfilling my life’s purpose in this incarnation.

We heard your lucky break came after cheekily approaching a producer in a cafe…

That was after going to quite a lot of producers with whom I had no luck. This one I just thought, it was one of my down moments, I just thought I would grab at the last straw that I could see. That was it. His establishment was called ‘Beverley’s Records’ and I was working on an idea. I had an idea called Beverley. I had just finished the song called “Beverley’s”, and right away I did it in 15-20 minutes and I went and walked into the shop. I said I am a singer and I have this song. He said, whats it called. I said Beverley’s. So it made them listen.

As is to be expected with a long career in any industry, you have had some major highs and lows, how do you deal with the extremes?

I just kind of ride the waves, the ups and downs in life. I have learnt to do that. I have learnt to become a surfer. The up moments they feel great, and the down moment, well you know, I just pick up and start again.

Would you be able to pinpoint your career high?

There isn’t really one, there are quite a few. I would say the first time I got my first number one hit in Jamaica, that was really a very high moment for me. Then when I went to England, that was really high moment for me. Even though that was kind of mixed emotions, as I didn’t know what to expect when I was in England. When I went there and I saw how the country was, it put me off a little but then it actually turned out good that I made that trip, that move. When I made the movie “The Harder They Come”, it showed me as an actor to the world. Acting was really my first love. To be able to do that and be a success at it, it was another high moment in my life. So there have been quite a few high moments in my life.

This year you were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, how do you feel about the accolade?

I have to say that is another high moment. The music I play is born and bred in Jamaica, I helped to create that music and to be inducted in an American institution, that is to be celebrated as a non-American, it really was something. When I was making my acceptance speech I remember my Grandmother, who was always very positive that I would make it in life. She was always encouraging to me.

You are famous for your on stage charm, what do you think makes a good showman? 

A good showman, well I think it is charisma and a whole lot of practice. There is the love for being on stage, the love for communicating with the audience, the love to see the audience excited, all of these combinations makes one a good showman. If the audience is not excited, the challenge to get them excited and achieving that gives great satisfaction. It is just a combination of all those things.

Would you be able to pick out a good performer from the young upcoming crop of musical artists?

Every now and then I hear a good song, so I am more inspired now by good songwriters. Every now and then I hear a good song, I think R Kelly is one of the good songwriters that I appreciate now. Taylor Swift is a good  songwriter who I appreciate. They vary in different areas. I even like a lot of things that Jay-Z does. It varies in all different areas of the music, but the writers are who inspire me now. I don’t see a lot of people who are great showmen. If they are out there I haven’t seen them.

Has a performer ever truly blown you away?

I am inspired, I am really inspired. I have seen som.I saw the National Dance Troup in Jamaica one-time and I saw this woman dance and it was just “Wow!”. It made me want to go home and start practising myself as an artist, I had to really practice. She really blew me away with the way she came across.

Your songs have been covered by everyone from LaToya Jackson to Fiona Apple, do you have a favourite interpretation of one of your compositions?

Off the top of my head, I would have to say it is Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Trapped”. Why? Because he did it totally, completely different from the way I did it. If you hear his version and you hear my version, they sound really like two different songs. So he actually made that song his own, so that is what I appreciate about covering a song. That is what I do when I cover somebody else’s song.

Your two most famous cover versions are possibly “Wild World” an “I Can See Clearly Now”. How do you choose what songs to cover?

When I did the then Cat Stevens “Wild World”, I heard the song in the publishing office, we had the same publisher at the time, and I just heard the song and I liked it. They told me he was the writer and I called him up, on the phone we just set the key. He went in with a band and did the track. I went in and I put my voice on and I was there for the mixing. So I liked the song when I heard it just by guitar. But for “I Can See Clearly Now” was for the move “Cool Runnings”. They wanted me to do “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, but at that time I couldn’t do that song because it was under some kind of contract. So they said how about to doing this other song. I said yes great, because it was a song I played the bongos on when Johnny Nash was recording it and I was living in London.

Having been awarded everything from the Order of Merit through to a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is there anything left you’d like to get your hands on?

The Oscar! I want the Oscar! Yes! I want the Oscar! That is what I want.

Have you got any acting jobs in the pipeline?

There is a movie that will go into production next year. It is set in Jamaica and the character is a Jamaican character who wasn’t so positive, but he is a very strong character. I just thought if that strength could be turned into a positive, then it could do a lot for humanity. That is the move we are looking to put into production next year.

Which fulfils you more acting or singing?

I have always loved performing. The thing with performing on stage is it a little bit different from acting. When I am performing I am me, my spirit comes out. In acting, I become another person. This is the great fun of acting. I get the chance to become other people. It is a bit different.

You are heading over to Australia for the Ragamuffin Festival. What appealed to you about the festival?

I have been to Australia before and I really love performing in Australia. I just love the audiences. I have been there maybe about four years ago. So when I was asked to come and do this festival, it gives me a chance to come back to Australia. That is really why I am coming.

Everyone from Mary J. Blige to Sean Paul will be joining you on the bill. Who are you most excited to see?

I would like to see most of the acts that are on the line up. I want to see them all, I want to enjoy myself you know.

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