I remember meeting Joe Strummer when I was about 16 or 17 and, after talking for some time about my musical aspirations, him being appalled that I hadn't see the film The Harder They Come. Shamed by the charismatic frontman of The Clash, and stymied by the terrible selection of videos available to me near my hometown in Connecticut, it took a trip to New York City and a visit to my friend whose parents still had a Betamax player to find out what all the fuss was about.
The digital age has made things a tad easier.
For more than 40 years, critics and audiences from all walks of life have sung the praises of filmmaker Perry Henzell's gritty, groundbreaking masterpiece that brought reggae music to the international stage, helped make Jimmy Cliff a worldwide star, and demonstrated that music and art can change the world. Now it's been restored in glorious HD and is available on iTunes and VHX via www.thehardertheycome.com in both download and streaming formats.
"Perry strongly believed in the power of Art to bridge cultural boundaries," said Justine Henzell, the Chair of Interntaional Film Management, the film's original producers. "Having his film available to the world in this manner is a dream come true."
IFM and its partner Syndctd Entertainment distributed the restored film into theaters last September for a one-night only special theatrical event. As part of the 360-degree approach to re-launching the classic film, an official merchandise line has been created with a fresh spin on vintage artwork from the movie.
"Consumers are looking for something special in the box when they purchase a DVD or Blu-ray. We want to translate that experience with an HD quality digital download straight to any fan's computer, laptop or tablet, along with official clothing as depicted in the film, at a discounted price, and VHX has provided that solution." say Syndctd Entertainment co-founders Philip Camino and Jonathan Chaupin.
This homegrown Jamaican film, co-written with award-winning playwright, Trevor Rhone, has gone on to become one of the best regarded independent features of all time. The 1973 U.S. launch of The Harder They Come led to four decades of smoke filled late night-screenings around the world. When Bob Marley and the Wailers first toured America later that year, they appeared in many of the same theaters that were screening The Harder They Come.
There is probably no more identifiable reggae album than The Harder They Come's original soundtrack album. Along with Bob Marley's catalog, it introduced the world -- and especially the US -- to the genre and is still a touchstone, with Rolling Stone magazine recently ranking it the third greatest soundtrack of all time (behind only behind Prince's Purple Rain and The Beatles' Help!).
Written and performed by Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, the Melodians, Scotty, The Slickers and Toots and The Maytals, the twelve tracks span a wide range of Jamaican music styles popular at the time the film was shot in the early 1970s. Music aficionados should note that the soundtrack consists entirely of songs written and/or performed by Jimmy or hand-selected for the film by Perry Henzell from his personal record collection.
This article is copyright 2014 by Jeff Slate. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.
California based skate-shoe company Vans who have developed numerous footwear/merchandise lines inspired by bands ranging from Bad Brains to Metallica have entered into a partnership with Queens, New York based Reggae independent VP Records to create the Dub Rockers sneaker. One-hundred and twenty pairs of the black mid-top accented with the Ethiopian/Rastafarian colors, red, green and gold, will be distributed throughout the summer, part of the promotional campaign for VP’s latest imprint, Dub Rockers,
The label’s debut is a Dub Rockers compilation, scheduled for an August 27 release in digital, CD and vinyl formats. The album’s ten tracks pair VP’s Jamaican artists with several American reggae acts that have amassed large fan bases among Vans’ target market: the skating and surf boarding community.
The first single “Only Man In The World,” a sultry lovers rock duet featuring Hawaii’s Anuhea and Jamaica’s Tarrus Riley was released in March and has sold over 6,000 digital units; the song’s video directed by Janelle Dyer (below).
Vans also sponsored professional skateboarder John Cardiel, who moonlights as reggae DJ Juan Love, to create a series of Dub Rockers mixtapes in the months leading up to the album’s release, coordinating tracks from VP’s extensive Jamaican catalogue with songs by American reggae artists. Cardiel will also spin reggae selections at the Dub Rockers late August album release party to be held at Brooklyn’s House of Vans, an indoor/outdoor concert venue and skate park, with a capacity of 1,200.
VP recently sponsored the 4th annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival (May 24-26) in Monterrey, Calif., attracting nearly 30,000 patrons with a lineup that included three California-based bands heard on the compilation, Slightly Stoopid, The Expendables and Rebelution. The label will also support the Afropunk Festival at Brooklyn’s Commodore Perry Park on August 24 and 25, which features a skateboarding competition. Vans, meanwhile, will push Dub Rockers video content and postings through their social networks, which include more than 10,000,000 likes on Facebook and 139,000 Twitter followers.
“This relationship has many marketing opportunities: we can do shows, create products together but most important is the relationship to authenticity; we come from the action/sports world, they come from the reggae world so bridging gaps is very meaningful to both parties,” says Kurt Soto founder of Vans’ Music Program, which includes their annual sponsorship of the Warped Tour.
“Our goal is to expose Jamaican acts to an audience that may be unfamiliar with them, but also legitimize in a sense what the American guys are doing because Caribbean audiences can be unreceptive to outside acts playing reggae,” adds Mike McGraw, VP’s Director of New Media as well as an avid skateboarder. “This is something new for VP; ultimately, we hope to sign Jamaican and non-Jamaican bands to the Dub Rockers imprint.”
Creating greater awareness of veteran and contemporary Jamaican artists among the predominantly young Caucasian followers of American reggae bands while, conversely, exposing American bands to Jamaican reggae’s core African-Caribbean listenership provided the inspiration for the Dub Rockers compilation, says A&R Christoffer Mannix Schlarb, VP’s former Director of Publicity/Radio Promotions and founder of the company’s digital division. “Reggae is a niche genre that doesn’t need division between Caribbean and American fans. I thought if we produced tracks that drew an authentic connection between Jamaican and American acts, it would appeal to both audiences,” offers Schlarb, now CEO of the reggae-influenced digital label Dub Shot Records. Dub Rockers’ co-A&R is Olivier Chastan, President of Greensleeves Records, which VP acquired in 2008.
The first track recorded for the project was “No Cocaine” featuring veteran Jamaican band Inner Circle (also known for their “Bad Boys” theme to “Cops”) fiery Jamaican sing-jay Capleton and Slightly Stoopid. Founding member, guitarist Roger Lewis says the American bands’ desire to play Jamaican music parallels what Inner Circle was doing during their late-60s formative years. “Back then we were listening to the Impressions, the Beatles, trying to copy the foreign-man style. Slightly Stoopid, SOJA been doing the same, except they were learning our ‘70s tunes; it’s a real humbling experience to see how much we influence these kids,” Lewis revealed.
The proliferation U.S. born and bred reggae bands over the past 10-15 years stems from the seeds planted in the mid-70s by Jamaican legends including Bob Marley and The Wailers, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, especially through “The Harder They Come” film/soundtrack; their music established reggae’s indelible popularity here, particularly among a (predominantly) white college age audience. Since then a new generation of young, mostly white American musicians have embraced reggae, integrating elements of rock and hip-hop. Several of these bands have so finely honed their skills they are no longer considered mere imitators but instead vital contributors to an evolving art form eternally rooted in Jamaica but with ever-lengthening branches that stretch across the globe.
VP’s development of the Dub Rockers imprint recognizes the shift in the reggae market as American reggae bands, buoyed by years of incessant touring and strategic online/social media marketing, consistently outsell their Jamaican counterparts.
On this week’s Reggae Album chart, for example, Strength to Surive (ATO) by SOJA (from Arlington, VA, heard on Dub Rockers alongside Germany’s Gentleman and Jamaica’s Tamika on the reggae-rock-dancehall mash up “I Tried”) is No. 3 after 69 consecutive weeks on the tally. Peace Of Mind (87/Silverback) by Rebelution (paired with Jamaican sing-jay I Wayne on the herb anthem “So High”) is No. 4, following 72 consecutive weeks and Hasidic reggae chanter Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker (Fallen Sparks/Thirty Tigers) sits at No. 6 with 45 consecutive weeks; all three titles have resided in the top 10 since their (2012) chart debuts. With Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated (RCA) at No. 1 the sole (non-compilation) Jamaican reggae artist album in the top 10 (Marley: The Original Soundtrack notwithstanding) is Sizzla’s The Messiah (VP) debuting this week at No. 7.
Peetah Morgan, lead singer of sibling group Morgan Heritage, who drop their ninth studio album Here Come The Kings (VP) on June 11 who are the only band with Jamaican roots to ever play the Warped Tour (in 2001 and 2002), says the punk rock/jam band audience that attends Warped and supports American reggae artists should have been aggressively courted years ago. “This is something we spoke about when we did the Warped tour, back when bands like Slightly Stoopid were opening for us. How did these American bands find their audiences? It is a circuit you have to tap into it. VP represents most of Jamaica’s reggae artists yet markets mainly to the Caribbean community, which doesn’t buy records; Chris Blackwell didn’t market Bob Marley to the Caribbean.”
For Dub Rockers Morgan teams up with John Brown’s Body, on the Subatomic Sound System remix of the Ithaca/Boston based band’s hard-hitting social critique “The Gold”. “We are all doing reggae but for totally different fans,” added Morgan. “Both sets of artists are interested in crossing into each other’s territories and this project is a great tool for that.”
Chatting with Jimmy Cliff is not like a normal conversation. It’s like talking to a poet whose choice of words is organically and naturally the most eloquent. He gives the impression that he’s not even trying. That’s how he talks. And that gift of words, which the celebrated reggae legend and actor has used to acclaim, makes even the most innocuous chat something pretty.
Take his description of his native Jamaica, which is still his home base, as “my inspiration. I still get that from Jamaica. The energy is right, there. It’s a little piece of Atlantis that sank.”
Come on. Who talks like that? Jimmy Cliff does.
As he makes his way to SunFest on Sunday (3 p.m.) by way of Miami, his base when stateside, he’s enjoying a renewed interest from fans old and new since the 2012 release of the Grammy-nominated “Rebirth,” which made Rolling Stone’s list of the year’s best albums. But he says he is, as ever, the same man, “singing the songs I have sung. Acting was my first love, but singing is something I value. So I wanted to be one of the great singers.”
Although he started writing in his teens, Cliff came to international acclaim in 1972’s “The Harder They Come.” He played a penniless reggae musician turned criminal Ivanhoe, creating not only a classic about poverty, ambition and crime, but introduced audiences to reggae music with songs like “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers To Cross” and the title track.
Cliff believes that its appeal transcends culture and geography because it’s about all of us.
“Reggae touches the human people on this planet. It’s political, spiritual — one of the best ways of relating to human beings. When I first came to the U.S., it was mostly Caucasians that found it. One of the reasons that I like to be in Florida is that more (people descended) from Africa would find it too. It connects to people all over the world, to the continent.”
There’s something more universal than the message, of course.
“It’s got that beat where you don’t have to be a great dancer,” he says, and even over the phone you can tell he’s smiling. “You know that dance where you don’t have to move a lot and still feel you look good.”
We know the one. That dance and the swaying rhythms that inspire it are universal, and Cliff is constantly finding musicians who claim him as an influence, including former Rancid singer Tim Armstrong, who produced his most recent album, and Dave Matthews, with whom he’s toured.
“It’s good that I can do that,” he says. “I think I’m an inspiration just from living my life. I am a person who is just very sensitive, feeling everything. Some good, some bad. People grew up listening to my music, and it’s good to see that so many have drawn imagination from that. It’s encouraging for me.”
In turn, Cliff says he likes to draw inspiration from other artists and genres to “stay current,” even when breathing new life into a classic, like The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” from “Rebirth.” (Or his version of the Partridge Family’s “C’mon, Get Happy” in the recent Jamaican Volkswagen ad.)
He says that he is drawn to songs that are from different genres “that feel right.”
After decades of touring, Cliff says he still enjoys it, although he’s careful “to take care of myself.” He’s pleased to find that reggae has translated to places far removed from the ocean, “like Chicago.”
And no matter where he goes, he just hopes to leave the place feeling better than when he left.
“I look at life as a journey,” he says. “Each (chapter) has stops and starts. Some are interesting, some are not. But you can learn something, take something as you go along.”
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: The Flagler Drive waterfront, downtown West Palm Beach
The big acts: Train, Smashing Pumpkins, Boz Scaggs, Jimmy Cliff (3 p.m. Sunday, May 5), Cheap Trick, Barenaked Ladies, Ed Sheeran, Gary Clark Jr., Phillip Phillips and more.
Tickets: $22 to $37 for daily admission.
More info: SunFest.com and at 800-SUNFEST (786-3378).
THE POST IS YOUR SUNFEST SOURCE
Nobody is more familiar with Sunfest than Leslie Gray Streeter, who is entering her 11th year of covering SunFest for The Palm Beach Post and pbpulse.com. Her favorite acts among the hundreds she’s seen over the years: James Brown, Jason Mraz, Mavis Staples and the unforgettable night that Eric Clapton came on stage to play guitar with Sheryl Crow on “Higher Ground.”
If you want to know what’s happening at SunFest this year, follow Leslie’s blogs on pbpulse.com and her Tweets (@lesliestreeter), beginning Wednesday night and throughout the weekend.
And keep turning to the Palm Beach Post all this week for Sunfest coverage:
TUESDAY ACCENT: Leslie’s look at the offbeat band Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes. And in The Scene: 5 non-musical things to do at SunFest.
WEDNESDAY ACCENT: What’s new in SunFest food? Liz Balmaseda reports.
THURSDAY ACCENT: Leslie interviews the Boca man behind SunFest’s psychedelic party, Life In Color.
FRIDAY’S TGIF: Our big weekend SunFest issue, with day-to-day schedules, a site map and Leslie’s interview with Slightly Stoopid.
SATURDAY ACCENT: Leslie’s interview with Sunfest performer and “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips.
Plus: Daily schedules in The Scene from Wednesday-Sunday.
Jimmy Cliff who cuts such classic reggae singles as The Harder They Come, Many Rivers To Cross and You Can Get It If You Really Want It back in the 60s and 70s - says he has always been an outsider. He was keen to collaborate with other artists and experiment with different genres, whereas most reggae artists remained in a closed world. And in the context of Rastafarian-dominated reggae culture he was also a Christian who converted to Islam then explored other religions ... and he has some rather outsider views on faith.
As expansive as the title is, “Reggae Golden Jubilee” does not do justice for just how culturally rich this new box set it is. Spread over four CDs, with an accompanying 64-page booklet rife with photos and commentary, the lavish set is the equivalent of a college course on the past 50 years of Jamaican popular music. Curated by Edward Seaga, a former prime minister of Jamaica who was born in Boston, educated at Harvard, and also used to be a record producer, the set uses 100 recordings to trace the chronology of the island’s music. Ska gives way to rocksteady and reggae and then to dub, dancehall, and deejay. (Released on VP Records, the box set is available only as a physical product.)
"Reggae is only what you hear and think is reggae," Peter Tosh pronounces at the beginning of Heartland Reggae (1980)—and a lot of what sounds like just that is playing at BAMcinématek during the long-weekend program Do the Reggae, which ends on the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. Concert documentary Heartland Reggae, to give one essential example, is an effort to record the music's Woodstock or Wattstax, cherry-picking performances from 1978's One Love Peace Concert, arranged to squash beef between Jamaica's then-warring political parties. Homecoming headliner Bob Marley is supported by Tosh, performing an interminable "Legalize It," along with 11-year-old dynamo Little Junior Tucker, doing his best James Brown, and exuberantly shirtless Jacob Miller, antagonizing the police presence with a wielded spliff. (Miller died in 1980, while his bandmates, Inner Circle, later found running-dog fame with "Bad Boys," the theme song from COPS.)
Following his legendary appearance at Glastonbury Festival last year, Jimmy Cliff is set to return to the UK playing London's indigO2 on May 18th and the Birmingham Ballroom on May 20th.
Singer, songwriter, musician and actor, Jimmy Cliff will be performing all of his greatest hits including 'You Can Get It If You Really Want', 'The Harder they Come' (soundtrack to the film in which Jimmy starred) and 'Many Rivers To Cross'. The shows precede the release of his much-anticipated new album RE.BIRTH due this summer.