Via Issue 183 Emotional Rescue, out now!

Written by

Augustus Britton

Photographed by

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Photography by Vision Addict

We begin where the film meets the music. It’s hard to find a more meaningful and catchy chorus than that of the hit single attached to 1972 Jamaican crime film, The Harder They Come, sung by the legendary Jimmy Cliff, also the film’s lead. The stylized story of a young man’s untimely quest and demise to become famous in the Kingston music business features additional Reggae stars like Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals, among others. Cliff speaks on the impact the film, which is currently enjoying a 50-year celebration, “I’m the only…well, I don’t know if it’s right to say, ‘I’m the only,’ but I am the biggest and brightest actor to come out of Jamaica. Everybody else made it by way of music. I’m the only one that didn’t make it just by way of music—I think that is something to look at.”

It is somewhat astounding to think that Cliff notes that his music may have been secondary to his acting in terms of his popularity, considering his album Cliff Hanger won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1986, that he grabbed a second Grammy for his album Rebirth in 2013, that Bob Dylan called his song “Vietnam” the best protest song he had ever heard, or that he has collaborated with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox, and, basically, the list of musical accolades are too long to recount. “The motivation to make music in my 20s was very in - tense,” Cliff says, “I definitely wanted to be heard by the world. But it is still intense, however, I don’t feel I have to fight as much. That’s the difference between now and then.”

Cliff recently released his latest album Refugees, which features 13 tracks of his inimitable grasp on the reggae sound and his optimistic, yet cut-no-corners truth he has been lauded for over the past six decades. “We live in a kind of a special time,” Cliff says, referring to the album, “and I felt the need to address some of the issues of the day. I didn’t start writing out the heavier songs, I just started writing the lighter songs, because they were written over a period of time, like from 2016 up. I wrote a portion of the songs over that period of time right up until this time.”

The album features song titles like “Racism,” “Money Love,” and “We Want Justice,” as well as a feature from Wyclef Jean, whom Cliff has collaborated with before and considers a dear friend. “I went through the different stages [with the album]. It was quite a release. It freed me up to move onto the next thing,” Cliff says of Refugees, a process akin to a spiritual experience. “My spirituality today is everything to me,” he says, of the way music has inspired his life on and off the mic through his now 78 years, “because I have always been a spiritual person. I went searching. I went into ancient Egypt and there I saw myself. On the walls. In the pyramids. All those places I saw myself and I said, ‘Wow! No one told me this…’ That was a big eye opener for me. My spirituality is rooted there.”

And as for being a living legend? How does that title make him feel? “Oh, well…” Cliff laughs, “I start thinking about the next level of living leg - end, and what am I going to be ten or twenty years from now? I think about that, and I just say, ‘Okay, I want to be healthy spiritually and physically all my life.’”

Photographed by Vision Addict
Written by Augustus Britton


Jimmy Cliff Augustus Britton Vision Addict

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