In a recent interview with Essentials Radio on Apple Music Hits, host for that week, Estelle, was joined by reggae icon Jimmy Cliff to discuss The Harder They Come on the occasion of the film and accompanying soundtrack’s 50th anniversary. However, the conversation ranged from the origins of the project to reggae’s endurance, the stories behind some of his classic tracks, as well as his musical upbringing.
In the early ‘70s, Cliff was residing in the United Kingdom when the film’s director, Perry Henzell, approached him with the idea for him to act in a movie. “[Henzell] brought the script over to me and said he would like me to play in his film. So, we ran a scene, and he was very happy that he had found the person to do his film after all these years walking around with it. Well, it took a few things to make me say yeah because at the time I was doing very well in Europe. I had hit records there. I was making good money. Well, one of the main things that made me agree to say yeah was the director said to me, ‘You know, Jimmy, I think you’re a better actor than singer.’ And my eyes popped open because I’ve always said that to myself, and nobody ever read my mind to say that. So, that really closed the deal for me,” an animated Cliff shared.
The singer and actor admitted that he was surprised by the success of The Harder They Come. “We all were. Because it was the first Jamaican film, and we all went into it, like we dived into the void, empty-handed. However, we were all confident that this could be a success.”
The Harder They Come premiered at the Carib Cinema in Kingston, Jamaica, on June 5, 1972. The film is most famous for its reggae soundtrack, which is said to have brought reggae to the world. It also reached the international market and has been described as possibly the most influential of Jamaican films and one of the most important films from the Caribbean.
EXHIBITION FEATURES OVER 40 PIECES
Last year the classic reggae album and soundtrack of the film was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. On June 4, an exhibition dedicated to the film officially opened at the former home of director Perry Henzell, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The exhibition features 40 art pieces and memorabilia reflecting the film’s impact.
Cliff has a catalogue that is suffused with endurance and it was a natural segue to delve into this. He spoke freely about performing his hits 50 years later and what motivates him to keep on doing music.
“Because they want it, I give it. Where there’s a demand, you have to supply. That’s what it is. That’s the motivation for doing it night after night. Part of reggae music is not only the music, the rhythm and all of that. The language, it was a new sound to people’s ear. So yeah, all of that is good,” he said.
Among his hits are Many Rivers To Cross, You Can Get it if You Really Want and Sitting Here in Limbo, and he spoke passionately about the genesis of each track.
“ Many Rivers To Cross … that song was a picture and the emotions of all different things that people go through in this life. As an African descendant man, I thought that was an essential part of the song; as people in general, people go through that, and I was thinking of all of those emotions packed into one,” Cliff shared.
You Can Get It If You Really Want, he noted, was an inspirational and autobiographical song which “came to me at one of the moments in my life when I was motivating myself”. Sitting Here in Limbo was the song that he wrote to uplift himself when he “was feeling kind of low”.
Reflecting on his upbringing, Cliff told Estelle, “My family, everyone sang. We were a singing family, and there was always music for everything. Music for dinner. Music for breakfast. Music for funerals. Jamaica is like that. So, yes, I grew up in a musical family. I sang in the church. There was music around all the time. So, yeah, at about age of six, I decided I want to do music … I sang folk songs, and I sang calypso, and I sang what we call foreign songs, which is mainly American music, you know. Whether it be Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, R&B, especially from New Orleans.”
A two-time Grammy winner, Jimmy Cliff was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.