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 –

See also: Repeating Islands


Leonard Dillon, Early Reggae Singer in the Ethiopians, Dies

In the following article, published in The New York Times, Oct. 3, 2011, Rob Kenner reports on the passing of  Jamaican music icon, Leonard Dillon, and celebrates his contributions.

Leonard Dillon, an influential Jamaican singer and songwriter who founded the pioneering vocal group the Ethiopians, died on Wednesday at his home in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, his daughter Patrice Dillon said.

Long before artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh made reggae music synonymous with social and spiritual uplift, Mr. Dillon had emerged as one of the first Jamaican singers to infuse his songs with Afro-centric themes and sharp-eyed commentary.

His body of work mirrored the evolution of Jamaican music, from laid-back mento-flavored folk songs through the horn-driven dance tunes of ska in the ’60s to the smooth rock-steady sound that eventually morphed into the bass-heavy music known as reggae.

Tosh was so taken with Mr. Dillon’s earliest compositions that he introduced him to Marley and the Wailers. They soon brought him to Studio One in Kingston — Jamaica’s first black-owned recording studio and label — where the Wailers sang harmony on Mr. Dillon’s earliest recordings.

Mr. Dillon joined Stephen Taylor and Aston Morris to form a vocal trio called the Ethiopians in 1966, the same year that Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, made his first official visit to Jamaica. Selassie was greeted by throngs of ecstatic Rastafarians, members of a Jamaican spiritual movement that saw Selassie as divine and Ethiopia as the promised land.

After Mr. Morris left the trio Mr. Dillon and Mr. Taylor continued as a duo, turning out hits, primarily in the Caribbean during the 1960s, like “Everything Crash,” “The Whip” and “Train to Skaville,” which also found wide popularity in Britain.

After Mr. Taylor died in a car accident in 1975, Mr. Dillon recorded on his own as the Ethiopian.

Mr. Dillon’s best songs featured a rebellious point of view that paved the way for reggae firebrands like Burning Spear and Culture.

Leonard Winston Dillon was born on Dec. 9, 1942, in Port Antonio. His mother was a music instructor. In addition to his daughter Patrice, survivors include his wife, Sylvia; six other children, Camille, Tamara, Hyatta, Raymond, Serrano and Lenward; and seven grandchildren.

He learned he had a brain tumor this year and had surgery, but the cancer spread, his daughter Patrice said.

Mr. Dillon’s music fell out of favor with the rise of dancehall reggae in the 1980s and ’90s, but he was undeterred. His final project, an unreleased 2009 album called “Original Hit-Makers From Jamaica, Volume 1: Leonard Dillon the Ethiopian,” was an attempt to restore his brand of vintage reggae to prominence.

“I think he was trying to bring back the name Ethiopians in Jamaica,” said Bunny Brown, a fellow Studio One recording artist. “You know, that name hasn’t been called in Jamaica for years, but it’s called in other parts of the world. He was also trying to bring back the real thing, the real authentic music, back to where it came from.”

For original posting: Leonard Dillon, Early Reggae Singer in the Ethiopians, Dies –


British Reggae Pioneers Misty In Roots to Launch 2011 UK Tour

The legendary reggae band Misty in Roots has announced a 10 date UK tour featuring the pioneers of UK Reggae Music.

With a career spanning four decades, Misty in Roots are one of England’s finest Roots Reggae groups. Along with Steel Pulse and Aswad, the band were one of the most powerful live Reggae acts to emerge from 1970s London; noted for their powerful roots reggae sound and uncompromising lyrical vibrations.

They became the major force in Rock Against Racism, pioneering the Reggae / Punk / New Wave crossover and playing more concerts than any other band in the movement. This opened up a whole new audience for the band who quickly developed a very strong cross over following, playing with acts such as Tom Robinson and Elvis Costello amongst others.

Recently overlooked by the BBC in their ‘Reggae Britannia‘ documentary, Misty In Roots’s contribution to the British Reggae legacy is indisputable, through their reaching out to new audiences in the 1970s with their unique PA and Sound System, they took Reggae to a whole new audience, defining the very sound that we associate with Reggae music today along the way.

The tour kicks off on 30th September at The Picket in Liverpool.

For original report: British Reggae Pioneers Misty In Roots to Launch 2011 UK Tour | World Music


African Reggae Revolution

The following CD review was written TJ Nelson, editor and CD reviewer for World Music

African Revolution (Indie Europe/Zoom, 2011)

I consider reggae one of those wonderfully sly genres where powerful messages are entwined with bright, feel good musical vibes. Well, Ivorian reggae singer and song writer Tiken Jah Fakoly pulls out all the stops for his latest African Revolution . Known for such recordings as Franafrique, Cours D’Histoire, L’Africain and Coup De Gueule, Mr. Fakoly has a history of fighting social injustices and oppression with his music and incendiary lyrics. Composing all but a handful of the tracks on African Revolution, Mr. Fakoly continues on his mission to change the political and social landscape all wrapped up in some delightful music.

Opening with a call to create an “intelligent revolution” on the title track “African Revolution,” Mr. Fakoly and a stellar company of musicians drenches this track with a masterful reggae blend laced with ngoni, balafon and electric ‘manding’ guitar against drums bass, guitar and percussion. Dipping into a plumy acoustic sound for “Je Dis Non” before slipping into a classic reggae sound for “Political War” with guest Nigerian singer Asa, African Revolution takes on a Malian griot sound against the meatiness of the Jamaican rhythms with the additions of kora, ngoni, soukou and balafon, making this recording extra special delicious.

Recorded in Kingston, Bamako and Paris, American Revolution’s sound beyond plush, especially on tracks like “Il Faut Se Lever” the flash of electric ‘manding’ guitar by Petit Conde on “Sinimory” or the balafon by Lassana Diabate, tama by Baba Cissoko and yabara by Mokta Kouyate on “Sors de Ma Tele.” Other gems include the breezy “Votez,” the funky coolness of “Je Ne Vieux Pa Ton Pouvoir” and the bright folk of “Laisse-Moi M’Exprimer.” Kudos go to producers Jonathan Qarmby and Kevin Backon from the Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, Jamaica because the sound and feel is rich.

African Revolution is simply stunning in its message and the pure joy of its music.

Buy the album or MP3 downloads:

For original posting: African Reggae Revolution | World Music