, OM (born James Chambers
, 1 April 1948) is a Jamaican musician, multi-instrumentalist, singer and actor. He is the only currently living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences.Cliff is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as "Wonderful World, Beautiful People", "The Harder They Come," "Sitting in Limbo", "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and "Many Rivers to Cross" from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come
, which helped popularize reggae across the world; and his covers of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" from the film Cool Runnings
. He starred in the film The Harder They Come
. Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
Early life and career
Jimmy Cliff was born in Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica. He began writing songs while still at primary school in St. James, listening to a neighbour's sound system. In 1962 his father took him to Kingston to go to Kingston Technical school, where he ended up sharing his cousin's one rented room in East Kingston.Cliff sought out many producers while still going to school, trying to get his songs recorded without success. He also entered talent contests. "One night I was walking past a record store and restaurant as they were closing, pushed myself in and convinced one of them, Leslie Kong, to go into the recording business, starting with me," he writes in his own website biography. After two singles that failed to make much impression, his career took off when his "Hurricane Hattie" became a hit, while he was aged 14. It was produced by Kong, with whom Cliff remained until Kong's death from a heart attack in 1971.Cliff's later local hit singles included "King of Kings", "Dearest Beverley", "Miss Jamaica", and "Pride and Passion". In 1964, Cliff was chosen as one of Jamaica's representatives at the World's Fair and he soon signed to Island Records and moved to the UK. Island Records initially (and unsuccessfully) tried to sell Cliff to the rock audience, but his career took off in the late 1960s. His international debut album was Hard Road to Travel
. It received excellent reviews and included "Waterfall" (composed by Nirvana's Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campbell-Lyons), which became a hit in Brazil and won the International Song Festival."Waterfall" was followed in 1969 by "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam" in 1970, both popular throughout most of the world. Bob Dylan called "Vietnam" the best protest song he had ever heard. 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
The Harder They Come (1972) and subsequent career
In 1972, Cliff starred as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classic reggae film, The Harder They Come,
directed by Perry Henzell. As the film tells Martin's story, he is a young man without funds. Arriving in Kingston from the country, he tries to make it in the recording business, but without success. Eventually, he turns to a life of crime. The soundtrack album of the film was a huge success that sold well across the world, bringing reggae to an international audience for the first time. It remains one of the most internationally significant films to have come out of Jamaica since independence. The film made its debut at London's Notting Hill Gaumont cinema on 1 September 1972. In 1975 Cliff sang on the first season of Saturday Night Live
, episode 12, hosted by Dick Cavett.After a series of albums, Cliff took a break and traveled to Africa (the Nigeria-based Jamaican writer Lindsay Barrett was instrumental in Cliff's first trip there), and subsequently converted to Islam, and took the new name: El Hadj Naïm Bachir. He quickly returned to music, touring for several years before he recorded with Kool & the Gang for The Power and the Glory
(1983). In 1984 Cliff appeared at the Pinkpop Festival in Landgraaf, Netherlands.During the 1981 River Tour, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band added Cliff's previously little-known song "Trapped" to their live set; it achieved great prominence when included on 1985's We Are the World
benefit album. The follow-up, Cliff Hanger
(1985) won a Grammy Award for 'Best Reggae Album', though it was his last major success in the U.S. until 1993. Also in 1985 Cliff contributed to the song "Sun City," a protest song written and composed by Steven Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of apartheid. Cliff then provided backing vocals on The Rolling Stones' 1986 album, Dirty Work.
In 1988, his song "Shelter of Your Love" was featured in the hit film Cocktail.
In 1991 Cliff appeared at the second Rock in Rio festival in the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He continued to sell well in Jamaica and, to a lesser extent, the UK, returning to the mainstream pop charts in the US and elsewhere (#1 in France) with a version of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" on the Cool Runnings
film soundtrack in 1993. In 1995 Cliff released the single "Hakuna Matata," a collaboration with Lebo M, a song from the soundtrack of the film The Lion King.
In 2002, Cliff released the album Fantastic Plastic People
in Europe, after first providing free downloads using p2p software. This album featured collaborations with Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox, and Sting as well as new songs that were very reminiscent of Cliff's original hits. In 2004 Cliff completely reworked the songs, dropping the traditional reggae in favour of an electronica sound, for inclusion in Black Magic.
He also performed at the closing ceremony to the 2002 Commonwealth Games. In 2003 his song "You Can Get It If You Really Want" was included in the soundtrack to the film, Something's Gotta Give.
Cliff appeared in July 2003 at the Paléo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland.Cliff has also covered Solomon Linda's "Mbube", which has been re-recorded by The Tokens as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Cliff name checked the Welsh privateer, Henry Morgan, in his song "Oh, Jamaica". Joe Strummer recorded "Over The Border" with Cliff on the latter's album Black Magic.
In 2007 Cliff performed at the opening Hi World ceremony at Cricket's World Cup. His song "Many Rivers to Cross" references the White Cliffs Of Dover, England.In the spring and summer of 2010, Cliff embarked on an extensive tour of the US and Canada.In 2011, Cliff worked with producer Tim Armstrong, singer of the band Rancid, on The Sacred Fire
EP and the full-length album Rebirth
.Cliff's 2012 album Rebirth
was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. The album was listed at #12 on Rolling Stone'
s list of the top 50 albums of 2012, saying "There's ska, rock steady, roots reggae, a revelatory cover of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton" delivered in Cliff's trademark soulful tenor, grittier but still lovely more than 40 years after his debut."
In addition to providing the music for The Harder They Come
, Cliff also had the film's starring role as the struggling reggae singer, Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin, which was his acting debut.Cliff also appeared as the Jamaican musician and revolutionary, Ernest Reed, in the 1986 comedy Club Paradise
, co-starring with Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole, and contributed several songs to the soundtrack, including "Seven Day Weekend", which he sang with Elvis Costello.Cliff appeared in the film Marked for Death
in 1990, performing "John Crow" with the Jimmy Cliff Band.
Awards and honours
The Jamaican government under P.J. Patterson honoured Cliff on 20 October 2003, by awarding him The Order of Merit, the nation's third-highest honour, in recognition of his contributions to the film and music of Jamaica. Cliff and Mervyn Morris are the only currently living figures from the arts to hold this distinction and he is the only living musician to do so.Cliff was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists. More recently, he appeared on the Jazz World Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008 and again at Glastonbury in 2011.Cliff's recording of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" was used as a campaign anthem by the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the 1990 election in Nicaragua. It was also adopted by the British Conservative Party during their annual conference in October 2007. It is unclear whether Cliff endorsed either political party.In September 2009, he was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following a campaign on his behalf by the American, Charles Earle. Cliff reacted to the news by saying, "This is good for Cliff, good for Jamaican music and good for my country." On 15 December 2009, he was officially announced as an inductee and was inducted on 15 March 2010 by Wyclef Jean.In December 2012, Cliff was named Artist of the Year by digital newspaper the Caribbean Journal, citing his work on Rebirth
.In February 2013, Cliff won the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award for Rebirth
Cliff is not a Rasta, and was not even one during the roots era of reggae. He has a 'universal outlook on life', and does not align himself with any particular movement or religion.