Jimmy Cliff Charlie Gillett - Essay

Charlie Gillett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Put the needle on Jimmy Cliff's Unlimited and the grooves writhe like a poised snake, the record grows hot with anger, and the air fills with the pungent smell of despair….

The songs are almost all about exploitation, of Jamaica, its music and Jimmy himself. "You stole my history, destroyed my culture," he accuses in "The Price of Peace," you "cut off my tongue so I can't communicate … hide my whole of life so myself I should hate." The slightly stilted language and the righteous indignation are reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield's songwriting style, although the music is less claustrophobic and mechanical than Mayfield's, more immediately accessible to an uncommitted listener. By the end of the second side the listener might accept Jimmy's arguments and feel contrite, but might also feel little inclination to play the record again: Too much condemnation is eventually intolerable, even when justified by strong evidence.

And there is plenty of justice to Jimmy's case. Jamaican music has been scandalously ignored by the American music business…. Since the mid-Sixties, a large proportion of the most infectious records have come from Jamaica, driven by rhythms which evolved and changed their forms and names while always compelling dance…. [Jamaican musicians] relied on subtlety and melody to weave their insidious way into their listeners. But not only were the musicians wonderful, so were the singers,...

(The entire section is 456 words.)