AFTER 40 YEARS, it turns out there are a few things that Jimmy Cliff can do to surprise people. Take, for example, his belief in other life forms in the universe.
Didn’t see that one coming.
The reggae superstar sounds off on his other-worldly belief system on July 19 at Massey Hall where he’ll be playing classics such as “The Harder They Come” and “You Can Get It if You Really Want” as well as tracks from his soon-to-be-released album Existence, his first since 2004’s Black Magic.
“Existence is about our existence on this planet and beyond because one of the few things people don’t know about me is that I do strongly have the conviction that we are not the only life forms in this universe,” says Cliff.
“It would be frightening if we were the only life form on this planet and beyond.”
Existence is a concept album delving into Cliff ’s spiritual side.
“To say, you know, existence is we do it, we did it, we will always be doing it … regardless of what’s going on,”Cliff explains.
“Since we’re going to exist, let’s try and do it good. And, yes, it sounds easy, but it is never that easy. It is good to be inspired to say, you know, it can be done.We need inspiration all the time.” For Cliff, inspiration comes from his travels, but also his Jamaican home near his childhood village of Somerton.
“I still have a family home in the hills in the country, and I sit up at night and really look at the heavens with no electricity. There are real heavens there. I see clouds moving in them in the moonlight,” says Cliff.
“It takes me right back to nature, old nature, and inspires me to think I’m a part of this whole thing that’s going on.”
It was in Jamaica where Cliff began his career, famously convincing Leslie Kong, owner of a record store and restaurant, that she should be in the music business and record his songs.
Lucky for Kong, she listened. Cliff paid back her trust by continuing to work with her until her death in 1971.
He did have some success early in his career, but his big break came as the star of the film The Harder They Come, which tells the story of Ivan Martin, played by Cliff.
“All I can say is that I knew I wanted to be some of the things I got a whuppin’ in school from my teacher for,” says Cliff.
“Him at the chalkboard and me in the class singing away and not paying attention and pow right over the back, ‘You think you’re on Broadway?’ he says. Broadway, I’d like to go to this Broadway.…And there was a Harder They Come show on Broadway, and I was there.”
Toronto holds a place in Cliff ’s heart that’s due to the appreciation he felt from fans when his career was just getting started.
“I haven’t played Toronto for a long time,” he says. “It is special to me, you know. I look at every show as special, but Toronto is quite a special place.”
Cliff ’s latest effort comes on the heels of his 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside other music luminaries such as Genesis and the Stooges.
“The way I treated that, to me, it is another stepping stone to more success. But, yes, it makes me feel good to be recognized for my past work,” says Cliff. “Especially when that recognition comes from my peers.”
But, Cliff is the first to admit that he still has work to do. “I wanted to conquer the world, you know, and I have not really conquered it,” says Cliff.
“Conquering the world means, for me, in all the areas of the arts that I have done … to make a great lasting impression.” For more information go to www.jimmycliff.com.