Born out of spiritual needs: Jamaica’s own Jimmy Cliff helps Night Flight “Take Off To Reggae”

By on April 20, 2018

Back in the 1980s, the original “Night Flight” series was arguably the only late-night cable TV show that tried to keep the incredible genre of reggae — Jamaica’s “outlaw music” — alive.

You can get a sense of just how we did that in this edited version of our “Take Off to Reggae” episode, featuring excerpts from our exclusive interview with Jamaica’s own Jimmy Cliff, bookended by sections of two of his videos (“We Are All One” and “Hot Shot”).

Watch this snack-sized syndicated ’90s episode now on Night Flight Plus.

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“…The music that I play, which is called reggae — commercially known as reggae today — it was born out of spiritual needs,” says Cliff in the interview, “which was a need for identity, respect, recognition, acceptance, love… all these things. This was the spirit why reggae music was born.”

The episode also features a second excerpt from one of our ’80s-era interviews, this one with Third World, and a peak at their “Sense of Purpose” video, a quickie clip of Peter Tosh performing “Legalize It”, along a couple of videos by the legendary Bob Marley (“Get Up, Stand Up,” and “One Love”) and one by his son, Ziggy Marley’s “All Love.”

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One of the reasons Night Flight championed reggae was the success that our founder/creator Stuart S. Shapiro had with with his independent film distribution company, International Harmony, which distributed reggae-fied films like the 1982 concert film Reggae Sunsplash — an annual reggae music festival in Jamaica that in ’82 featured Bob Marley, Yellowman, Eek-A-Mouse and Steel Pulse — and the Jamaican action/adventure cult classic Countryman.

In 1982, Night Flight — along with CBS Records and the soulful reggae group Third World — hosted a “Win a Trip to Reggae Sunsplash” contest.

Read more about Jimmy Cliff below.

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A few years back on his birthday — he was born James Chambers in the rural village of Somerton in St. James Parish, on the northwest end of Jamaica, on on April 1, 1948, which means he just turned 70 years old in 2018 — we wrote how Cliff’s career got a huge boost from theatrical screenings of 1972’s The Harder They Come (and its soundtrack too).

The movie debuted in America in 1973, screening on college campuses in New York City, New England and California, where the reaction was not nearly as explosive as screenings of the film in Jamaica, which had started riots.

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Cliff  only made $10,000 for starring in the film, but it went a long way towards establishing him as a reggae great worldwide.

Here’s more from our previous Night Flight post about Jimmy Cliff’s life and career:

He quit school in 1961, at the age of 13, and left Somerton for Kingston to pursue a music career, changing his surname to Cliff and recording his first single “Daisy Got Me Crazy” that very same year, finding success at age 14 with “Hurricane Hattie” before joining a government-sponsored tour of Jamaican vocalists.

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This tour quickly led to Cliff finding work as a backup vocalist in London, and then to performing all over Europe during in the mid-sixties.

He released several albums over these next few years, including the 1969 album Wonderful World, Beautiful People (it was released in the U.S. on A&M Records.)

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In 1970, a white Jamaican filmmaker named Perry Henzell, a former advertising director who grew bored with making commercials that didn’t reflect the reality he was seeing, wanted to introduce a wider audience to the true realities of Jamaican life.

After seeing Cliff on one of his album covers, sought out the young singer to record songs for a low-budget film he wanted to direct, which he called The Harder They Come.

It was to be the first full-length film shot in Jamaica with a full Jamaican cast and director. According to Cliff, nine months later, Henzell now also wanted him for the starring role.

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In the film — co-written by Henzell and Trevor Rhone — Cliff portrays Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a black Jamaican who leaves his deceased grandmother’s home in the Jamaican countryside, traveling to Kingston to bring his mother the remaining pocketful of cash from his grandmother’s savings.

He’s also a singer-songwriter who, not unlike Cliff just a few years earlier, is trying to make it in the music industry in Kingston, but he ends up being forced into a kind of Robin Hood-gangster existence by the oppressive island government.

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Along the way, he encounters a corrupt local police team with flame-thrower bearing American soldiers, ostensibly to restrict international smuggling of ganja, while also potentially seizing distribution of a sacrament within Jamaica’s Rastafari movement.

Ivan is jailed, and then beaten, for a relatively minor crime, and once he’s released from prison, Ivan gets in a fight with another man over a bicycle and brutally slashes the man’s face.

There’s a great scene showing him watching a spaghetti western, and later he becomes the six-shooter-toting cowboy hero in his own life.

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This ’90s-era syndicated episode also featured Night Flight’s edited mash-up of an a 1950’s-era short “What To Do On A Date,” a “video essay on phone etiquette (“Oops, sorry, wrong number!”), music videos by Tom Tom Club (“Genius of Love”) and Laurie Anderson (“O Superman,” “Sharkey’s Day,” “Language is a Virus”), the 50’s-era public domain drug-scare movie Cocaine Fiends, a vintage black & white interview with James Dean by actor Gig Young, and samples from an episode of “Comedy Cuts,” featuring bits from stand-up comedy routines, clips from The Three Stooges, and other surprises along the way.

Watch “Take Off to Reggae” on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.