Jimmy Cliff, the pioneering Jamaican ska and reggae musician, has told the The Big Issue that he’d tell his younger self to never forget who he is, and to never forget to be who he is in an emotional Letter To My Younger Self.
It was 1964 when Cliff turned 16, the same year Beatlemania exploded during the band’s first trip to the US. By this point, Cliff said he had already been writing music for years.
“The process started in school when I was maybe nine or ten. The inspiration was hearing a song by a local artist by the name of Derrick Morgan on the radio. I thought, if local artists are doing things and getting on the radio, maybe I can do it too,” he said.
On moving to England in 1965, Cliff confessed it was a difficult time for him.
Don’t you know we don’t have coloured people here?
“At that time, I didn’t even have a proper Visa, so they wanted to send me back. Finally I got to come into the country, which was yet another culture shock – wow, where does all this fog come from? Why do all the houses have this thing on the top, which was a chimney. I thought they were all factories. No wonder people come here to get jobs!” he said.
“My landlady saw me exercising one morning, and said: ‘What are you doing here? Don’t you know we don’t have coloured people here?’ She gave me 24 hours to get out. I slammed the door in her face.”
Cliff told The Big Issue how his teenage self would feel really good about his career.
“I would tell my younger self to never forget who you are. And never forget to be who you are. There is what you are and what you become. But what you become is not who you are by nature – so remember who you are. I would whisper that in his ear,” he said.
“I learnt a lot from my grandmother – because I didn’t grow up with my mother. As a parent, most of the things I teach my children now are what my grandmother taught me. I try to teach them good morals: don’t lie, don’t steal.”