Jimmy Cliff – Crossed Many Rivers

Undoubtedly, one of Jamaica’s premier and most loved gifts to the world is her music. The international recognition and fame of reggae artists such as Bob Marley, for example demonstrates this vividly. Other artistes have also contributed greatly to the popularity of this Jamaican music form. Names such as Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, Black Uhuru, Lee "Scratch" Perry and the legendary Jimmy Cliff come to mind. These were some of the movers and shakers of Jamaican reggae who helped bring the music into the Jamaican and international main stream.

With a catalog that ranks among the most loved in global culture, one of the most influential of these artistes is Jimmy Cliff. With a long legacy stretching back almost 50 years, the Honorable Jimmy Cliff is still standing as one of the prime movers in Jamaican reggae and indeed modern music as a whole. Cliff remains a forceful voice of power and conscience, creating new music that is as creative, vital and vibrant as ever.

Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers on 1 April 1948 in Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica. Today, he is the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honor that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. As a promising young artiste, Cliff began writing songs while still in primary school. In fact, while attending Kingston Technical School, he would seek out many producers, trying to get his songs recorded without success.

Regardless, it did not take Cliff long to make an impression on Jamaica's music industry. Less than a year after arriving in Kingston he recorded his first single, "Daisy Got Me Crazy". Overtime Cliff got that big break and after two singles that failed to make much impression; his career took off when his "Hurricane Hattie" became a hit. He was only fourteen years old. Cliff's later local hit singles included "King of Kings," "Dearest Beverley," "Miss Jamaica," and "Pride and Passion."

In 1964, Cliff signed to Island Records and moved to the UK. There, he encountered racist discrimination in London and struggled for several years, but he found the musical atmosphere congenial. He later released his first international debut album, ‘Hard Road to Travel’. Simultaneously, his hit single, “Waterfall" won the International Song Festival.

In 1969, he released hits such as "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam". Also during this period, Cliff released a cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" as a single, but it was not included on his Wonderful World, Beautiful People album. The album included his composition "Many Rivers to Cross," a reggae classic in the estimation of nearly all the music's observers.

Apart from being a talented musician, Cliff was a prolific actor as well. In 1972, he starred as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classical reggae film, The Harder They Come, directed by Perry Henzell and set in Jamaica. The film charts Ivan's story, as a young man without funds. Arriving in Kingston from the country, he tries to make it unsuccessfully in the recording business.

Eventually, Ivan ends up enmeshed in a web of organized crime and is eventually killed. The soundtrack album of the film was a huge success that sold extremely well across the world. The track contained several of Cliff's best recordings (including the title track), and remains one of the best-selling reggae albums of all time. This brought reggae to an international audience for the first time. Today, it remains the most significant film to have come out of Jamaica. By the middle 1970s, Cliff was one of the most recognizable reggae artists in the world.

As one who helped to popularize reggae music outside of Jamaica and an iconoclastic figure within the music industry, Jimmy Cliff is a Jamaican star with a recognizable international following. Though he has not achieved the fame and influence of his contemporary, Bob Marley, he paved the way for Marley and other performers to spread their messages around the world. Today he is recognized as a perennially popular figure with a strong following in many parts of the world. Jimmy Cliff is not just another reggae artiste, he is not only an icon, or a star, but he is a musical legend.

 Navito (The Caribbean Current)



scroll to top