Rock And Rules: Jimmy Cliff

The guide to surviving a life in music, by those who know best...

Jimmy Cliff, Jamaican reggae icon, shares his lessons on life and the many rivers he's crossed…

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The kind of music I make comes from the heart and it comes from my experiences. It’s about the things that I observe in real life, and I express that in my music. So there is a whole universe there. There’s so much to express – some of it is deeper than others.

I was always socially and politically conscious, so it was natural for me [to express it in music]. I never had fear of doing it, wondering what people would say if I said this or that. It was just something that I did, so there wasn’t much I had to be afraid of.

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Do everything single thing in life with purpose. It’s for each and every one of us to realise what is that purpose, and once you realise your purpose it’s kind of plain sailing after that.

My purpose is to do what I’m doing. Each artist has to find their way. What is my way? What comes most naturally to me? And songwriting was just one of the things that came naturally to me.

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Lots of my peers that came up the same way as me lost themselves to drugs. And it came as a surprise. It was hard to lose them. I was always a health conscious person.

People often don’t realise where the problem comes from. If you get in with the wrong kind of people – meaning, people on a different path than you – then it can make you more inclined to do the same thing.

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Challenges are something that I welcome. Without challenges I really don’t see how I would last or sustain, so I always look for something to challenge me. But basically, I like to stay current – that’s a big challenge. To always stay current with what’s going on in music, in each genre, each generation.

So I listen a lot. I observe a lot. And that way I see all that’s going on. I try to hang out with different people, people I can learn from. 

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Oh, absolutely I do exercise. You have to do that; you have to take care of your body. Got to do the exercises, watch what I eat, how I sleep, my thoughts, all of these aspects of things. I have to exercise and it has become part of me – not just a lifestyle; it’s just as important as brushing my teeth when I wake up in the morning… that’s the same as exercising for me.

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I would say songwriting is something you always have to work on. You always have to work on music. I have music on all the time. I don’t do it just to keep sharp or to keep myself in tune with the music, it’s just something I love to do, and I keep doing that.

Beyond that I know that I need to practise as well, because I’ve found out that if I don’t practise I lose things. If I go to a rehearsal for a tour, for example, I want to be ready, even more than the musicians.

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New album ‘Somerton’ is due this winter.

Photo via.

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