Photo by Thomas Sheehan.
At age 64, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff is experiencing perhaps one of the greatest bursts of artistic productivity and inspiration in all of his five decade long and counting career. Following the release of his new album, Rebirth earlier this year, the Jamaican native—who recorded his first single 50 years ago—is touring the world, including a performance at Coachella earlier this year and stop at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday for the Harmony By The Bay Festival. The Shins, Tegan & Sara, Dirty Heads and Matisyahu are also on the bill.
As one of the originators of the reggae genre, Cliff has inspired countless other musicians over the years, including Bay Area punk rocker Tim Armstrong of Rancid and Operation Ivy, who was brought aboard to produce and perform on Rebirth.
“When his name came up, I was familiar with it via Joe Strummer of the Clash, and knew that punk music and reggae music had a kinship, because reggae inspired and influenced punk,” says Cliff. “We address social and political issues in our music, and everything just kind of blended.”
Though the album has a classic and vintage reggae feel to it, the punk spirit that Cliff mentions comes shining through on two of the tracks, one a cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” the other an excellent version of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” which features a fitting cyclical connection between all of the artists.
In one verse of the song, which was released in 1979, the lyrics read, “You know he feels like Ivan/Born under the Brixton sun/His game is called surviving/At the end of ‘The Harder They Come,’” referencing the 1972 film that starred Cliff and featured his title song.
“The fact that the last song Joe Strummer ever recorded was with me on my last album—that made it all seem right,” says Cliff.
In choosing the title for the album, Cliff says he was inspired by a number of different things.