The rebirth of the happiest protest music: "Vietnam" scribe Jimmy Cliff.
The rebirth of the happiest protest music: "Vietnam" scribe Jimmy Cliff.

Jimmy Cliff

With a career that reaches back four decades -- and with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh long dead -- Jimmy Cliff may be the closest thing to a visible elder statesman that reggae music has to offer.

Perhaps explosive mainstream success has eluded Cliff, but that hasn't prevented him from spawning a string of respectable albums over the years and penning some memorable songs. (Bob Dylan allegedly once named Cliff's "Vietnam" the "best protest song ever." Allegedly -- people are always claiming Dylan said something disproportionate.) Best of all, Cliff has never wallowed in the worst of reggae's crowd-pleasing clichés.

But even without these accomplishments, Cliff would still rank as a reggae legend if only for his involvement in the groundbreaking movie The Harder They Come. The 1973 film remains a powerful dose of shantytown vérité. Cliff not only starred as the film's protagonist Ivan -- an aspiring pop star who becomes a razor-toting criminal -- he also contributed the majority of the songs to the film's best-selling soundtrack. Three decades later, the record remains the finest reggae sampler ever.


Jimmy Cliff

Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street

Scheduled to perform on Friday, September 5. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $22. Call 602-267-1600

Hip-O Records upped the ante on the landmark disc earlier in the year by repackaging a deluxe 30th-anniversary edition. In addition to the usual top-of-the-line audio enhancements, a second disc has been added, which contains 18 more "must have" reggae classics (including the aforementioned "Vietnam" as well as three other Cliff tunes). The collection serves as a reminder that there is a lot more going on in the tropics than we see in the Sandals ads -- and some of it is pretty scary.


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