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Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorised Biography (Caribbean Lives) Paperback – 30 Nov 2011
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About the Author
David Katz is author of People Funny Boy: the Genius of Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Solid Foundation: an Oral History of Reggae, and a contributor to several other books on Jamaican culture. He has also coordinated and annotated over 100 retrospective collections of Jamaican music, released original records in the UK and France, and co-hosted reggae radio programmes on three continents. Originally from San Francisco, Katz currently lives in London, where he regularly deejays at select nightspots.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Katz's previous books are Solid Foundation, an oral history of reggae, and People Funny Boy, a bio of legendary Jamaican producer Lee `Scratch' Perry. Both are widely recognized as essential reggae books, and his latest stands tall alongside, even as it comes in compact form (200 pages plus a discography, bibliography and index). It is a thoroughly informative and entertaining work which breaks new ground.
Jimmy Cliff is a prolific composer and charismatic performer blessed with a great voice. He is also a deep thinker who has exercised his principles of spirituality and pan-African consciousness in ways which don't get a whole lot of hype in the music press. He is best known as a pop artist, the voice behind seminal reggae hits such as "Wonderful World Beautiful People," "Vietnam," "The Harder They Come," "Sitting in Limbo," his cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" and many many more. His hits are so massive as to be ineffaceable in the world of reggae and popular music.
Naturally, record companies want to replicate success, and so between the artist's own ambitions and the wiles of the music industry, there's been some over-slick and unexceptional material over the years with Jimmy Cliff's name on it. Much of the time the sags in the artist's output are the result of record companies overdubbing after the fact and polishing the life out of what otherwise was credible material. And yet, whatever the verdict may be on albums like Hanging Fire, who can question the depth and authenticity Cliff conveys with the Rasta nyahbinghi "Bongo Man a Come" or the musical kinships he's forged with African and Brazilian musicians. Katz explains the paths to and from the songs in the whole of Cliff's discography and queries dozens of musicians and others to fill out context.
Cliff has experimented musically and pushed boundaries, and Katz gives this dimension of his life its just due. We learn, for instance, about Cliff's visits to Africa - not simply to perform to adoring audiences but to meet with political and cultural leaders. We learn about culturally important music he's created (my personal favorite being "War a Africa," a stunning song about war and conflict).
Despite whatever enticements might be suggested by this being an "unauthorized" work, Katz stays focused on the public life of Jimmy Cliff, his many great musical works from the sixties to the present and his role as a public ambassador for humanitarian causes. As a result, we are not regaled with tales of sex and excess, nor do we hear from ex-girlfriends with axes to grind. Cliff's personal life remains just that.
One has to know some of the difficulties in obtaining and verifying information in reggae to appreciate fully this book.