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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 18, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with the legendary reggae artist jimmy cliff. he helped push reggae on to the world stage generation ago. next week, he has a new six-song e.p. called "sacred fire." we are glad that you have joined us. the conversation with reggae legend jimmy cliff, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy
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and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public tavis: pleased to welcome jimmy cliff to the program. he has been an influential force in the music business nearly 50 years. next year marks his 40th anniversary of the seminal album and companion movie, "the harder they come." next week, he has a new six-song bp called "sacred fire."
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it is an honor to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: i love the title of that, "sacred fire." >> "sacred fire" are the secrets that i have kept secret over the years, things i have yet to do, things i have yet to accomplish as an artist. on another level, it is the secrets of my connection as an earthman. and connecting my secret fire from my solar plexus to the earth. these are secrets that have been kept secret, and i am growing to understand these things. tavis: and now the secret is out. yous go back and have
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unpacked a few things. i thought i heard you say there is so much stuff that you still want to do musically. given the icon you are, i am trying to figure out what the heck that maybe, jimmy. >> i have done at a lot of things to become what i have become. to create and establish a musical form, an iconic movie. however, first of all, i was a songwriter. i have written some good songs, but there are greater songs i know i have an side that need to come out. i am an actor. i have done four movies. and i have not done the amount of movies that i would like to do. i tour regularly all over the
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world. i do festivals, but i am not doing stadiums yet. i do some stadiums and other parts of the world, like africa or south america and those things. so they are the things to be accomplished, the big albums, the great songs i think i have. tavis: i want to keep up with you. when you say there are still great songs inside of you, but i think i have ever asked this question before, and i have talked to some great songwriters. i want to ask this question -- does a song writer ever lose his or her mojo? there are many great songwriters, yourself included, who have their moment when all of the stuff that they write is a chart topping.
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i do not want to believe that because your stuff is not chart- topping that you cannot write great music, but i want to know whether a songwriter it loses his or her mojo. is there anything there? >> i don't think a songwriter should lose their mojo. in my situation, i am one of those artists that lasts over a longer period, rather than have your moment and your moment is gone. i am one of those over re period period of time. tavis: let me ask this another way. i accept that answer, but what happens in a person's career -- if they are a great songwriter, why is it when i go see artist x, y, or z in concert, why is it
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i want to hear the songs from when they were riding "great songs"? what does their stuff resonate in one time, but does not chart- top at other times. does that make sense? >> i think maybe they were connected with the energies of the time. tavis: of the moment. >> and then maybe they get too comfortable and stop connecting with the energies. that is the only way i can see it. i try to stay with the time. tavis: something you said earlier, and you did not say it arrogantly. it is this notion of not just being a great artist, but you're iconic status in large measure is derived from that you helped
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to put an art form, a music art form on an international stage. take me back to that moment, and tell me more about how you were able to take reggae and put it on the international stage. >> i think we all have a role to play in life. once one realizes how to play the role, they play it well. sometimes we do not realize it right away. i was in a position to be a contributor to this music that we now call reggae, without knowing that my role would be to take it there. tavis: what were you calling it back in the day? >> it was just jamaican music. tavis: fair enough. >> so i realized along the way, why am i the first in england to doing these things? i had to ask myself, why am i
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the first going to africa? why am i the first why go to all of these adorations in africa? why am i the first in asia? why am i the first in the u.s.? this is my role, i realized. that is it, i realized what my role was to play, the contribution that i made at the beginning. there were other great artists in the music, you know, people who were unsung. however, they did their role. my role is to take it as a contributor and establish it, as like a pioneer. tavis: and you did that remarkably well, still doing that. let me ask how it feels, whether you have wrestled with the fact that the guy who got so much of the credit for that -- you know
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where i am going with this. >> yeah. tavis: a great artist himself, no mistake, bob marley, but how have you processed that notion that the world thinks that bob marley is the end-all, be-all? >> i am gratified for the fact that i was the one who took him, discovered him. he came by, and i heard him. he played his music for me, and i took him to make his first music. i am gratified with that. i knew that he had it. that is good. he did not let me down. role.le is the shepherds the shepherd is the one who opens the gate and allows the flock to go through.
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whoever opens the gate has to close it. at the gate has not yet closed. -- the date has not yet closed -- the gate has not yet closed. tavis: a that: alyric, make me a song about that. -- that sounds like a lyric. make me a song about that. >> i considered it to be part of atlantis, the south continent, but that is my thing. i write songs on a universal basis, not just to make end jamaican songs. tavis: whenever you want to call it, too might year -- i may get in trouble for this, but maybe more than any other music form,
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certainly as much as any other, you guys are always saying something. oftentimes, i don't want to call them protest songs, but wrestling with the human condition. you would agree with that? >> absolutely. tavis: what is it about jamaican music, reggae, whenever you want to college, no matter how profound it is, if you listen to the words, you are learning something about the human condition? >> i think it is part of our environment, when you check the history of jamaica. it goes back to the whole history of jamaica. that is not only about the condition of love that we all share as human beings, or as beings, but it is about our living, our whole social
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condition embodied in that. we used to call the music scat when it took on a form that was very upbeat. when jamaica about its independence from britain, then we called it rock steady and slow down. we said, what is this independence? the music slow down. then it became reggae when it took on a more spiritual form with the growth of breast far -- with the growth of rastafari and, all of this. when we go behind the history of the formation of this music, it is from our history coming from africa, and the struggles that we had, and how some of our ancestors had to fight for the freedom, and they fought against the british. even today, i am a descendant of
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people who were called marrons, and even today there is a piece of land that is for the maroons. we govern ourselves. ithere was a treaty by the british and the maroons, because they could not win the war. they said, let's make peace. we will give you this piece of land. i say all of that to say the spirit of this is embodied all along the way it. we carry the dna all along. tavis: that is what gets me about the music. never mind that the commercials that we see, "come to jamaica," running down the beach, the white sand, love, happiness, joy, the music with peace and freedom, and i am always taken by how that lyrical content
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comes through with such great clarity, yet i have never seen a people who struggle so much. not just historically, you go to jamaica now, as you know, you did of the shopping strip, you get outside of the resorts, not just poverty, abject poverty and crime, etc., etc. i love the country, but i am always taken by how much love can come from so much strife, struggle, grief. >> it is the part of us ought that can never go, love, -- it is the part of us that can never go, love, the essence. beyond everything else, love. that is one of the things that kept us going, keeps me going, the eternal love. knowing that i am and the love of the all, and all love is in
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me. tavis: jimmy's writing more lyrics. i hope somebody is writing this down. it you were just laying it down. speaking of wonderful lyrics, talk about this new project. tell me about the content of the music of love. ," this album, i am doing it with tim armstrong. it is how the music over the years affected so many different genres of music. coming from a different school of music, but based in reggae. we got together and decided to do this album. it is a song that is recorded by a group in england called the
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clash, a pop group. to see how the music we did it affected them speaks about the harder they come in the song. i felt it was a very appropriate moment to re-record that song and put it forward again to the public. that is one song. there are other songs like -- tavis: a bob dylan song. >> a bob dylan song, who was divorcethe voice of a generatio. he also had a very good liking for jamaican music, inspired by jamaican music as well. i myself was inspired by some of his music, too. tavis: what do you think of bob dylan as a songwriter? >> he is brilliant.
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he is one of the brilliant song writers. the music that we have today, i mean, we are not listening a lot to social political lyrics, because maybe the frame of mind people are in, they did not want to hear that. i think it is the way that you give the medicine. i think we can give it in a nice way. you drink it and it is sweet, "oh!"\ -- "oh!" tavis: you are covering some bob dylan stuff. paul simon of late has been covering your stuff, specifically the vietnam song. >> yes, i heard it. i met paul some time ago. we talked, and he told me the story of how he was listening to
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an album of mine for a long time, an album that came out here in the u.s. in the u.k. it was called just "jimmy cliff." it was fresh music at that point and time. he loved it so much, he said, " get the same studio, the same musicians in jamaica. i want to use the same band that jimmy cliff used for this record." and that is what we did. we recorded "modern showery union." "vietnam" was one of the songs that was very inspirational to him. tavis: what do you make of the fact that we are in a moment now where there are literally protesters in the street in this
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country, but around the world, the middle east and beyond, protesters doing everything they can to have their voices heard, leaders toppled in certain countries around the world? is now the time for new protest music? do we need more of that? >> we need that expression, whether we want to call at protest or not, we need to echo the people. artists need to do that. this is an e.p., then the album is coming. i think the people are in a mood, ready for that. certain artists have a role to echo the people, and that is what i will do on my next album. tavis: have you ever felt uncomfortable in that role? >> no, because it is what i do naturally. however, i am not one of those
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artists who is cemented in one way. i am able to make be happy, joy- filled, light-hearted music, too. we need that in life, too. tavis: maybe now more than ever. >> absolutely. tavis: you are always traveling around the world. you mentioned certain parts of the world where you frequent. if you are respected and regarded everywhere, but in those parts of the world where you keep going, what is it about you or about your music, the lyrical content of it, you tell me, what is it the people in those regions of the world connect to? >> i think it is the feeling, the energy, the universal birth
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energy -- the universal earth energy i am able to express. for instance, i was in new zealand, and i had a song called "rebel in me." i met this young girl, she pointed at me, she said i saw you on tv. she started expressing what i saw you on tv doing. people of today ♪" she does not know the lyrics, but she is singing the melody. it is an energy that we commit to. it is the same way that if you listen to a stevie wonder ssong. that energy that stevie wonder was connecting to, can next to you, even today. the music is like that.
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i have always had this global outlook. i connect with people globally. tavis: when you were a kid growing up in jamaica, listening to your neighbors radio, on the floor, listening to the radio, practicing songwriting, i assume that you never imagined it would coit be like this, -- that it would coit be like this -- quite be like this. >> i had a global outlook that i really wanted to capture the world. bui wanted the attention of the world, at least. i wanted that. i got that, but i am taking it to the next level now. tavis: you have no intention of stopping? >> oh, no,this is my role in
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life. everyone needs to realize, why am i here? everybody needs to ask, why am i here, what i am doing? once you are able to its that question honestly, smooth sailing. tavis: what do you make of the fact that we're just about to hit the 40th anniversary of your film, the harder they come"? >> it is great. that is a film that capture the moment of time and inspired other films. one of the great films in the u.s., all over the world, is fitcarace."s -- "scarface." when you look, you will see the similarities of the story. i am glad that played a pivotal role.
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it is a classic. it is great to be around out to celebrate the 40th anniversary. still, i am looking forward to the next level, the next movie. tavis: if jimmy cliff is going for the next level, we should all do the same thing. we all know that he could rest on his borrow said he wanted to, but he is not. jimmy cliff, the new album as "sacred fire." thank you for the great conversation. >> thank you, sir, for having me. tavis: that is our show for tonight. good night from l.a., and as always, keep the faith. ♪ ♪
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willso as sure as the sun shine i will get mine the harder they come the harder they fall one and all the harder they come the harder they fall one and all yeah, harder they come the harder they fall one and all ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for our conversation with the author's love boat "vincent van gogh -- join me for our conversation with the authors of "vincent van gogh."
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that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--
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