Jimmy Cliff — Jamaica’s superstar of endurance

The following article, written by Everton Pryce and published in the Jamaican Observer, Mar. 03, 2013, pays homage to one of the all-time greats of reggae music, Jimmy Cliff.

There is a proverb, suspected to be of Chinese origin, which goes something like this: “If you remain on the bank of the river long enough, you will see the bones of your enemies floating by.”

Jimmy Cliff, it is fair to say, has endured the cynicism of many detractors throughout his illustrious career, which involved him crossing many rivers on his way to winning two Grammy Awards (1986 and 2013) in the reggae category.

A great many of these detractors now bask in his illustrious achievements as creative artiste, singer, actor and poet, underlining the sterling contribution made to Jamaican culture and history by the creativity and collective experience of the mass of the population who are poor, dispossessed and marginalised.

When superstar Cliff was presented with the Manley Award for Excellence over 27 years ago, some upstart and mean-spirited artistes, along with a few misguided music journalists, thought it was an insult to those regarded as the “real musicians”. It was never made clear what “real musicians” implied, but presumably it meant those who reproduced other people’s music over the years. Acts of genuine creativity out of the ordinary people’s experience were regarded then as retreat into atavism.

Yet, the enduring voices of artistes like Bob Marley, Buju Banton, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Joseph Hill (of the group Culture) — to name just a few — and Jimmy Cliff, have uttered in their own inimitable way, maxims of prudence, guides to development, sharp historical analysis, and insights into the human condition.

In his song Price of Peace, for example, Cliff analyses the historical relations of a particular epoch of Jamaican life as only those who speak to reality through the arts of the imagination can:

“You stole my history/

Destroyed my culture/

Cut out my tongue/

So I can’t communicate/

Then you mediate/

And separate/

Hide my whole way of life/

So myself I should hate…”

Academics, political and economic practitioners, and our grassroots cultural ambassadors, will readily appreciate the genius in the poetic conciseness of this passage which brilliantly sums up the detailed research, theses, and book-length accounts they have given of specific examples of that historical period.

Failure on the part of many Jamaicans to appreciate the power in the insights of the ordinary Jamaican, whom the Jimmy Cliffs and Bob Marleys represent, continues to blur the vision of the society to the creative output of the ordinary folks representing what is considered mastery of what is said to be important for economic development.

Of course, the problem with such an attitude is that it encourages some Jamaicans to misguidedly regard reggae — even the immediately indiscernible variety — as non-music, even while the global village respects it enough to name a category of music for it.

Reggae’s musical creation out of the specificity of ordinary Jamaicans’ experience clearly accounts for its universal appeal and endurance.

This is why when asked recently during a TVJ Smile Jamaica It’s Morning Time interview what he thought of contemporary reggae music, Cliff cryptically replied: “Girls, cars and stars,” followed by the qualifier, “Music is music.”

His answer suggested, in subtle fashion, that the wisdom of the streets, where the ordinary people are to be found, is not to be discounted by the “Big man” (or “Big woman”), whether from the Parliament, the private sector, or the citadel of the creative industry.

Jimmy Cliff knows only too well that the wisdom that informs the success of reggae music, including his own genre, can be mined from the daily verbal exchange of millions of words in bars, on street corners, in tenement yards, shacks, the cane-piece, the market, mechanic shops, hairdressing parlours, barber salons, on radio, at the workplace and elsewhere.

More important, he knows it is also found in the dub poetry, the reggae songs, the deejay lyrics, and the paintings and carvings of intuitive artists like the late and celebrated Kapo Reynolds.

Cliff is off again on a month-long tour of some 10 cities in Asia and Australia to communicate the enduring aspects of our culture and history of suffering and survival, as well as designs for social living, to tens of thousands who respect him enough, and consider him relevant, to have exhausted ticket sales in advance of his arrival.

Where is the evidence that this illustrious and hard-working creative artiste of the soil is respected and revered to the same degree in his own yard?

His tour will no doubt generate millions of dollars in foreign exchange. Precisely how much of this will flow back into the country is hard to say. But be that as it may, can we dismiss the creative output of the imagination of an artiste like Jimmy Cliff as “non-productive”, and of less monetary value than what passes for entrepreneurial initiative in Jamaica?

Like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Veronica Campbell Brown, and others of their ilk, the 64-year-old Cliff has made it by self-reliance and the entrepreneurial use of his native creative talents. And despite the odds, he has shown that he is capable of the discipline, sustained application and hard work that people of his class are usually said not to possess.

We dare not ignore this talented, illustrious, and wise son of the soil. What comes through clearly in his capacity to endure over these many decades is his ability to think and to stay focused on his craft.

In the final analysis, his two Grammy Awards serve to remind a lopsided and otherwise evolving society that something other than minstrelsy exists among our people.

What a blessing!

For the original post: Jimmy Cliff — Jamaica’s superstar of endurance – Columns – JamaicaObserver.com.

See also: Repeating Islands

A man of music

The following article was written by Nigel Telesford and published in the Trinidad Express, Feb. 23, 2013. 2013 narks the tenth anniversary of the death of the tremendously gifted musician/composer, and it is in this context that Telesford pays homage to his legacy.

Andre Tanker was a musical giant, whose compositions fused many different styles from around the globe, defied all standard definitions and actually spawned many of the genres we know today.

A direct descendant of Michel-Jean Cazabon and an accomplished musician, Tanker played the vibraphone, piano, guitar, flute and blues harp and amassed an incomparable music legacy before his untimely passing on February 28, 2003.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of his death, we examine his legacy and share fond memories of this legendary musical icon through the eyes of his family, friends and close collaborators.

“We have to recognise his contribution and the impact of it, even today,” said Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal. “He was an amazing songwriter, composer, musician; a giant, warrior, legend, pioneer—a man of music who was committed to Trinidadian, Caribbean and on a wider scale African and Indian expression—because he was a mix himself!”

In 2002, Tanker and 3Canal released their smash hit collaboration, “Ben Lion”—a satirical look at the ongoing conflict at the time between US president George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which became the song which defined the Carnival festival that year.

“He had the whole song written already and sat thinking… I want someone else to sing on this,” recalled his widow Christine Tanker. “So he went down to D Yard by Rituals there and played it and 3Canal heard it and agreed to jump on it. That’s the kind of man he was—he didn’t have a problem sharing his talent or his knowledge.”

In 1963, Andre Tanker and his band, The Flamingoes became the first local band to perform at the prestigious Hilton Hotel. Six years later, he married the daughter of Olympian, Emmanuel Mc Donald Bailey and in 1970, he composed the music for Derek Walcott’s play, Ti Jean and His Brothers. Tanker also contributed the music for Ti Jean in Jo Papps’ production of Shakespeare in The Park in New York in 1972 and composed and recorded the film score for the feature film, BIM as written by Raoul Pantin and directed by Oscar winner, Hugh Robertson.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, he would compose music and lyrics for many plays, films and television productions, including Earl Lovelace’s Dragon Can’t Dance, Horace Wilson’s Turn of the Tide, Mustafa Matura’s Playboy of the West Indies and Measure for Measure as part of Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre in New York.

“I think a lot of people feel like he only wrote “Sayamanda” and “Ben Lion” and that’s it,” said his daughter, Zo-Mari Tanker, “when the truth is he did sooo much more! But that’s how he was too… He didn’t go around bragging and boasting and claiming things. He just made the music and he shared it. I mean, he would get serious if someone tried to rip him off blatantly and be strict about those sort of things, but he wasn’t one to brag and list his accomplishments.”

Tanker and his band, One World Contraband toured the Caribbean and the US, while he himself journeyed to London, Italy and many countries of the world, while performing in Jazz and World Music festivals alongside the top musicians on the planet.

In 1996, he collaborated with top American pannist, Andy Narell, international drummer, Richard Bailey and calypsonian, David Rudder to create the highly-rated album, Children of the Big Bang.

“My father used to play his music in the car on that drive to school every day.” Guitarist Nigel Rojas remembered. “That drive to school every day was important to me cause they had a lot of local stuff that was getting nuff airplay at the time—you had no choice but to know who these guys were because you would hear the parents speak of them with reverence and one of those people was Andre Tanker. So that was my first interaction of sorts with him and my second came when I was about 8 or 9 and I went to a variety show at St Mary’s with my mother and grandmother—this was one of those shows where you would have one performer doing poetry, another might be a ventriloquist with a puppet and then came Andre Tanker with Contraband!

“I remember it vividly because he came out with an amazing afro, a resplendent dashiki and it was like my first real rock star moment when I felt inside that I wanted to do that—I wanted to be that guy onstage who transformed the little hall with 300 people into a mega stadium full of screaming, singing, adoring fans.”

In 1999, Tanker served as musical director for Geraldine Connor’s UK Production of Carnival Messiah, before sharing his vast array of knowledge with the students of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in 2002. Tanker served as the composer/musical director for Ti Jean and his Brothers at the university and lectured on his work as a Caribbean composer, while also teaching a class in contemporary composition.

“One of the things anybody who knows Andre would remember,” said his wife and daughter, “is his amazing sense of humour. He never took himself too seriously and he always found a way to look at things that would result in laughter all around. I remember when he was at Trinity College, he would make jokes about it, saying that he would never be invited to do what he was doing there at UWI because he didn’t have a degree—but yet those people from so far away sought him out and welcomed him with open arms. He would see the humour and the irony in things and rather than letting it upset him, he would laugh instead.”

In 2000, Tanker and One World Contraband were also contracted to film a one hour segment for BET’s Jazz In The Sun series in Negril, Jamaica and this production is still shown worldwide on the channel today. Prior to his death, Tanker completed work on a special project which he entitled, IERE 21 and described as “a body of work encompassing all the music of Trinidad and Tobago”. Tanker believed this project would “usher us into the 21st century”.

In January, 2003, Tanker released three singles: “Is Heat” and “Food Fight” with Maximus Dan—who was also featured on a remake of his classic, “Hosanna” which was dubbed, “Hosanna Fire”—and “Rough Jammin”. Less than 24 hours before his passing, Tanker performed “Rough Jammin” alongside Imij & Co at the Mad Hatter’s Ball on Carnival Thursday. Rather than going straight home afterward as he would usually do, he stayed out quite late, telling his family: “It’s my last party”.

May his soul rest in peace and his legacy live on forever.

Andre Tanker: September 29, 1941 – February 28, 2003

For the original article: A man of music | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Sunday Mix.

‘Killer guitarist’ struggles but pulls family out of homelessness

The following article was written by Deborah Circelli, staff writer for Daytona Beach News Journal, and published on Jan. 16th 2011.

Bert Bailey plays daughter Jackie’s guitar at the STAR Family Shelter. The family is about to move into their own home. (N-J | Sean McNeil)

DAYTONA BEACH — Bert Bailey’s fingers glide over the guitar strings with hints of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley as he sings in a raspy blues voice.

“I thought I wouldn’t make it at all,” the lyrics roll off his tongue, eyes occasionally closing, then a sudden smile, a musician’s joy. “Just when that girl took my hand, everything was all right. I said girl, I shoot you straight to the top.”

Nearby, piled on a slide and wooden jungle gym in the small playground outside the local homeless shelter, 10 children stare at the person they know as “Mr. Bert,” who cleans and lives at the shelter.

They remain quiet and focused until the song ends, then burst into applause as he raises his hand and shyly smiles, thanking them and some parents who later appeared.

It’s not the typical audience for Bailey, who is from Trinidad and toured with the reggae superstar Marley for a few months in the late 70s, after playing in clubs with another band in New York City.

A band Bert Bailey formed while living in New York, The Next Morning, had an album in 1971. Bailey, who has been living at the STAR Family Shelter, said he is pictured in the center. (Bert Bailey)

He has struggled over the years with odd jobs cleaning or moving furniture, “because playing wouldn’t always be there to supply a steady income.”

He found out only recently that an album from his early days in the United States that he never thought saw the light of day has been selling on the Internet and downloaded for cell phones and MP3 players.

“We had no idea what ever happened to the records,” Bailey said. “I don’t believe this; after all these years, this is hooked up all over the Internet.”

Bailey, who has been playing in bands throughout Volusia and Flagler counties for more than 15 years, has been living the past 11 months at the STAR Family Shelter on Seagrave Street with his 12-year-old daughter and her mother, his longtime partner. The family will soon be moving into a rented house.

The couple said they fell on hard times when their hours got cut doing maintenance, laundry and other work for area hotels. Part of the decline, they said, came after their daughter almost died as she suffered cardiac arrest at Daytona Lagoon water park in 2008 and spent more than a month at the hospital recovering.

At the shelter, which houses 30 adults and 43 children, some of the children and adults are surprised when they hear the voice and guitar sounds of Bailey, who doesn’t like to tell his age but is in his early 60s. He played during Christmas for residents and practices in his room or in the playground area with his daughter’s small guitar. His electric guitars are at the house of the drummer in a local band he’s in called Children of Stone.

Bailey’s nickname is TriniHendrix because he’s from Trinidad and people compare his sound to the late guitar legend.

“He’s an absolutely killer guitarist,” said Tony Marlow, owner of The Golden Lion Café in Flagler Beach, where Bailey has played off and on for 10 years. He also gave Marlow’s son guitar lessons about nine years ago.

“He’s just so good,” said Marlow, who was shocked to hear Bailey has been living in the homeless shelter. “I never knew he was on such rough times.”

The director of operations over the shelter and the STAR Family Center, Raul Gonzalez, is hoping somebody from Bailey’s past recognizes him and he’s able to reconnect or that someone hears his story and his career can rebound.

The recent news story of an Ohio homeless man, Ted Williams, whose broadcasting voice brought him national attention, gives Gonzalez hope.

“He is the most humble man I have ever met,” he said, adding Bailey is only paid part-time, but works all day long at the shelter doing maintenance and other volunteering. “His story is like so many other musicians in the past who didn’t have the proper representation. He’s kind of disappeared into time.”

FROM TRINIDAD TO NEW YORK

Bailey has been playing guitar since he was 9 years old, influenced by an uncle who was in a band in Trinidad. Bailey said he and his three brothers and two cousins formed their own band called Bert Bailey and the Jets, playing at fairs and schools, making records and performing on a television show and on the radio in Trinidad.

“We played everywhere and all over the country. We were on posters all over town and we played with the big groups,” Bailey said.

After moving to the United States in the late 1960s, he said he attended a music school in New York City for two years and worked at an insurance company in the mailroom and supply department. But he said, “I was lost without my group and all my friends.”

Eventually, he formed another group, mostly from Trinidad, with one of his brothers, Herbert, a cousin and two other men. They billed their sound as rock with “an island influence.

“Everybody left their jobs and we went full speed ahead. I started writing all the songs,” Bailey said. “This is what made our music different. We still had the island flavor in it.”

The group, called The Next Morning, hit 42nd Street and Broadway in 1970 “going from studio to studio and company to company” until they got noticed by a record label and produced an album, “The Next Morning” at New York’s Electric Lady Studios. The band was told to keep playing in clubs throughout New York City until a single was released from the album.

He said the musicians were promised an advance worth thousands of dollars for equipment to go out on tour with another well-known band at the time, “but the money never came.” They kept waiting for the single and album to be released and the group became frustrated, he said, and broke up.

Bailey said he eventually landed in Miami, where his mother lives. He was recording in the late 1970s with a mutual friend of Marley’s, a musician known as King Sporty, “when this guy with big hair came through the front door and it was Marley.”

Marley, he said, later had him fill in for one of the lead guitarists for six shows of the Kaya tour in 1978, named for Marley’s album.

One night on tour in Detroit, Marley, who Bailey describes as “a messiah of music” and whom he idolized, asked Bailey to come to his room to talk to him.

“I was having goose bumps — this was Marley talking to me,” Bailey said with excitement still in his voice today.

Marley took out a Bible and started reading from a passage that Bailey recalls dealt with the 12 tribes ofIsrael, and he thought “this is getting heavy.”

“He started reading something about ‘you are my twin brother,’ ” Bailey said. “I’m not really following, but I have to. He is way up there. He said, ‘you are here to learn and to see and to transfer what I’m teaching you into your own story.’ ”

He continued playing with King Sporty and eventually ended up in Daytona Beach in the 1980s where a musician friend lived. Through his friend, he met the woman he calls his wife about 19 years ago and the mother of his three children. He never returned to Miami.

Bailey said it wasn’t until one of his daughter’s teachers three years ago pulled up his name on the Internet that he found out “The Next Morning” had been released in 1971 and is now on CD. The album has become a collector’s item selling on some websites and in some countries for hundreds of dollars.

“After all these years, I was blind about what was out there. I’m actually glad and actually blessed to know that the little thing is still here. It’s still alive,” Bailey said. “It’s almost like a miracle.

“This is what we wanted when we were hungry at the time,” said Bailey, who questions why he and band members, who he’s lost touch with, don’t receive royalties.

Gonzalez, who oversees the shelter, hopes to find a lawyer to help Bailey research what happened and see if he can recoup anything from the sales.

“He hasn’t lost anything over time,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking at a guy who is talented like that and he’s homeless. He’s a simple man who has a passion for playing — that is the only thing he knows.”

‘LIKE HENDRIX AT WOODSTOCK’

Steve Smith of Port Orange, who plays the drums and whose stage name is Mitzsoto, has been playing with Bailey for about four years in their band, Children of Stone.

“Bert can go to places on a guitar that I have never heard,” he said. “The music morphs in a way that is like Hendrix at Woodstock.”

He said Bailey’s life is almost like Hendrix’s life before he became famous and was sleeping in alleys.

“Bert has kind of gone along the same path,” Smith said. “He had fame and stuff coming to him in the ’70s, but through mishaps in life, he’s never been able to get to where he really belongs and that is at the top of the food chain, and that is the way Hendrix was.”

Hyacinth “Mimi” Rismay, the mother of Bailey’s children, said “things have not been the same” since their daughter, Jackie, almost died when her heart inexplicably stopped while at the water park. She said they still don’t understand what happened. She still has to take pills daily for her heart and had a defibrillator implanted, Rismay said.

The couple, who have been together in Daytona Beach for about 19 years, also have two other children, 15 and 16, who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands with their grandmother.

Rismay now works two jobs and spends nights taking care of an elderly woman outside of the shelter. The couple and their daughter, though, see better times ahead. They plan to move this week to a rented house through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and helps with their expenses.

Bailey, who has had problems with drugs in the past but didn’t want to talk about it, said being at the shelter kept him focused and has been a blessing because the staff helped him save money and get the shelter job. He plans to continue working at the shelter when he moves out.

While practicing earlier this week, Bailey wore a shirt that read “Live to play.” He sang a song by Hendrix called “Red House” and some originals he’s written about love and inspiration. Sounds of small children crying and playing drifted in from outside.

“Every day I take my guitar and this is how I get into my peace of mind. That is how I calm down,” said Bailey, who mostly practices in his room or at a band member’s house. Fellow shelter residents gathered to hear him play on this afternoon.

Sherri Reid, 41, who lives at the shelter with her two daughters, said Bailey is “a hidden talent.”

Sabrina Troyer, 11, who is at the shelter with her mom and sister, said she likes Bailey’s “rhythm and how he plays. It touches you.”

Bailey’s daughter, Jackie, a sixth-grader at Holly Hill Middle School, sat nearby with the other children. She writes songs and loves rock music and hopes one day to sing and produce. She’s been inspired by her father, who told him her songs need to have “rhythm and it needs to make sense.”

As he continued to play, another man living at the shelter said he had no idea Bailey had such talent.

“I’m a quiet person,” Bailey said after practice. “I don’t want people to feel I’m any different.”

For original report: ‘Killer guitarist’ struggles but pulls family out of homelessness – News.