During the past 50 years or so reggae has had a tremendous impact on the world music scene. House is heavily influenced by dub and techniques such as versioning – or remixing as it is called in other genres – is widely used on the global music scene.
But reggae is of course also Bob Marley, and the genre is more or less synonymous with his music and tunes such as No Woman No Cry, Redemption Song and Three Little Birds.
In the shadow of Bob Marley several other artists and groups struggled to get their fair share of the global market. One that almost made it as far as Bob Marley is Jimmy Cliff. But due to a number of reasons he didn’t reach the same huge amount of followers.
These reasons – and a lot of other interesting facts and stories – are told in David Katz’ Jimmy Cliff: An unauthorised biography on Signal Books, and part of the Caribbean Lives series.
David Katz is the author of several other articles and books covering reggae, among them People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry and the ultra-heavy Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae.
Being an unauthorised biography means that the book doesn’t rely on recent interviews with Jimmy Cliff. According to an interview with the author Jimmy Cliff was approached, but “didn’t respond this time around”. However, David Katz has met Jimmy Cliff on previous occasions and used that material for this book. He has also interviewed a number of other musicians and people that have worked with Jimmy Cliff over the years.
The picture painted of him is a loving one. Jimmy Cliff is a highly creative, hardworking musician that doesn’t think twice about trying genres other than reggae. He has also struggled to reach his current position on the music scene.
He has been criticized for his music and for visiting South Africa during Apartheid. It is also clear that Jimmy Cliff is a spiritual individual, but has had an eclectic history having been a Muslim, a Christian and somewhat of a Rastafarian. His firm beliefs may have been hard to categorize in one religion.
Jimmy Cliff is also rootless. Both when it comes to music and to housing.
He travelled early to the U.S. and to the UK trying his hands on a variety of genres. From the 70’s and onwards his travelling increased and his touring took him around the world. His home has been in Jamaica, Brazil, UK and France. And probably several other places as well.
Music wise he has always been curious, which has made his albums non-cohesive. Usually one side with pop-oriented material and one side leaning towards reggae. Even though he has made roots reggae, Jimmy Cliff is not always viewed as a reggae artist, due to his passion to explore musical boundaries.
David Katz has given life to a complex individual and written a well-researched and easily readable portrait of one of the giants in the world of music.