The soundtrack to 1972’s “The Harder They Come” (see YouTube video below) catapulted reggae and Jimmy Cliff to stardom. Cliff, who starred and sang in the film, put a hustler’s tale on screen decades before Jay Z with the story of a disenfranchised “rude boy” devoured by the oppressing poverty of Kingston’s streets.
Cliff endures today — Grammy-winning “Rebirth” came out last year — because injustice endures.
The classic reggae message, from Cliff to Marley to the rest, is as overt as Rihanna’s sex drive: “What about love now?” The world and all its complicated problems are simplified to love your neighbor — love the world with a backbeat.
On the “KCRW Sessions,” an intimate set performed in 2012 for the California radio station’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” Cliff is straightforward. The “Rebirth” opener “World Upside Down” laments crime, corruption and starvation, but ends with all solved by love.
“This is what I propose, and it’s not naive,” he monologues before segueing into “Wonderful World Beautiful People.” “I am on the side of those who believe in good over evil.”
The “KCRW Sessions” are as simple as that message: just Cliff and an acoustic guitar. His voice crackles with age, but that only makes the hardships in his classic “Many Rivers To Cross” all the more real.
Yet, Cliff is unflinchingly optimistic. After finishing “Many Rivers …” he says, “That’s what it takes, but you know, it’s good when you can say … ” and strums right into his old hit “I Can See Clearly Now.”
It feels like an old man has cornered a young one in a room, the way Cliff sings his fables directly at each and every listener. He has “one more story to tell,” Cliff sings on “One More.” He has no patience for the wicked — let love and freedom ring.
It’s like in Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing” when the Mayor stops Mookie in the middle of a pizza delivery to impart some wisdom.
“Doctor, always do the right thing,” he said.
Dismiss the message if you will, call him naive, but it’s hard to say he or Jimmy Cliff are wrong.
Reviewer Dylan Brown is a deejay for the University of Idaho student radio station, KUOI 89.3 FM. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2278 or find him on Twitter @DylanBrown26.