Jimmy Cliff Premieres 'Life' Music Video From Upcoming Album: Watch
When 13-year old James Chambers left his rural Somerton birthplace just outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica, to attend high school in the island's capital, Kingston, he already had a grander scheme in mind: the pursuit of a musical career. Jamaica's recording industry was in its infancy in 1961 so James, who took the name Jimmy Cliff as an indicator of his lofty ambitions, sought opportunities wherever he could throughout downtown Kingston: at talent shows, with sound system owners turned producers in fledgling recording studios, even in an ice cream parlor/record shop named Beverley's.
Somehow, the persistent, precociously talented teen convinced Beverley's initially reluctant proprietors, the Kong Brothers, to record him. The resultant single, "Dearest Beverley," produced by Leslie Kong, commenced a succession of hits that established Cliff as a star in Jamaica by his 15th birthday. By 1972 Cliff had become an international sensation for his riveting portrayal of aspiring singer Ivanhoe Martin in The Harder They The Come, the ﬁrst feature ﬁlm written and directed by a Jamaican (the late Perry Henzell), shot entirely on the island and featuring an all-Jamaican cast. Cliff's brilliant contributions to the film's soundtrack, including the timeless title track, introduced reggae to an enthusiastic global audience. A two-time Grammy winner and a 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (the only living Jamaican artist to be so recognized) at 69, Cliff's unabated passion for creating new music led him back to where his career began, downtown Kingston, specifically the communities of Cockburn Pen and Parade Gardens, where he filmed the video for his recent single, the irresistibly upbeat "Life" (Zojak Worldwide).
"Shooting the 'Life' video there was like walking back in time, I grew up in west Kingston and many of the producers from back when I started out were around those areas; you could walk from Parade Gardens to their places and all of the artists would meet up at Beverley's, Coxsone Dodd's (Studio One) or at Duke Reid's (Treasure Isle)," Cliff reminisced in a phone interview with Billboard from his home in France; he also has a home in Jamaica. "Going back there now, everybody knew me, everybody put their best into the video so there was a lot of excitement and I really felt great shooting the video there."
The video includes residents of different ages singing, playing dominoes and celebrating "Life" with the ever-youthful Cliff; vibrant dancehall inspired choreography and spectacularly vivid murals along Parade Gardens' Fleet Street (created as part of the Paint Jamaica and Life Yard initiatives, which have brought farming, a restaurant, performance space and various outreach programs to the beleaguered, sometimes volatile area) enhance the festive mood.
Directed by Mike Abela and produced by ID Studios, the video for "Life" debuts below.
Cliff, who has released the majority of his albums on major labels over the past 50 years, wanted to take a different route for "Life," the first single from his forthcoming (as yet untitled) album due later in the year on Zojak. He sought suggestions from the song's producer, Jamaica's Steven "Lenky" Marsden whose production credits include Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go," which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Sean Paul's "Get Busy," which topped that tally in 2003 (each artist recorded their vocals over Lenky's hand clap driven Diwali rhythm track, one of the most successful dancehall "riddims" of all time).
"I told Lenky I want to drop a single and he said you need a digital distributor, so I started putting out feelers for one and Zojak's name came up. Someone from my camp spoke with Zoe and she was very enthusiastic about working together; I looked up Zojak's work and it looked like the right way to go," Cliff acknowledged.
Cofounded by Zoe K. Espitia (CEO) and Aaron Mahlfeldt (President) in 2007 when digital distribution was still an unknown commodity, Zojak Worldwide is now the largest digital distributor for reggae and dancehall, representing over 2,000 clients including artists, producers and independent labels; Zojak also functions as a full service record label offering marketing and promotions and has its own publishing arm. Espitia recalls approaching numerous artists (including Cliff) 10 years ago about digitally distributing their catalogues. "Some didn't know what it was all about, some weren't interested but most wanted to learn about it. This is our 10th anniversary so we really know about the digital world, that is where music has gone, and for an icon like Jimmy Cliff to want to work with us now, we feel like the sky's the limit now," she says.
Cliff's warm, supple vocals over a pop friendly Caribbean accented danceable beat augurs well for the success of the "Life." "The song cuts across genres and can be played on various adult FM radio stations. Little kids will dance to it and 60 year olds will get a happy feeling from it," notes Mahlfeldt. "Our promotion for 'Life' will kick into high gear in the next few weeks, we will work with radio promoters and by September, I expect that we will be getting a lot of spins in the U.S., which is the most important place for us to have people hear this song."
Cliff describes the songs on his forthcoming album as "socio-political, inspirational or about relationships"; he might release an EP prior to the new album but whatever format he chooses, Espitia is confident the music will be well received. "The album actually reminds me of The Harder They Come because these are the kinds of songs you either need to write a movie to or find a movie for," she says. "I have never heard anything like it."