Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Many Rivers To Cross
by jima

Years ago, Marc, my big brother, made a tape for me that shaped my musical tastes. A collection of songs by Jimmy Cliff, a pioneer of both ska and reggae, the tape featured music from Cliff's albums released in the late 60s and early 70s and contained all the elements that make early reggae so much fun: heart-wrenching anguish (Trapped, later covered famously by Bruce Springsteen), defiance (I'm No Immigrant), and American-pop-with-a- no-problem-mon-Jamaican-twist (a cover of Cat Stevens' Wild World).

Last weekend, by sheer luck thanks to my lovely wife, I got to see Jimmy Cliff perform when, along with everyone else in Singapore, we attended WOMAD, a festival celebrating the music, arts, and dance from countries and cultures all over the world.

We skipped WOMAD last summer and endured raves about it ever since, so this year we made plans early, opting only for Saturday night tickets for the 3-night festival because, well, we're old. Venitha looked up the line-up the day before the show.

"Some guys, some band, some Hispanic-looking name, and... Jimmy Cliff? He's still alive?"

I'm happy to report that not only is Jimmy Cliff alive, but he was excellent. He dances with enough vigor and style to put most 20-year-olds to shame, and his voice retains the clarity and soul that made him a star. His performance took me back... to a late-night drive on a country road, Many Rivers To Cross (here rendered more appropriately Many Rivers I've Crossed) blaring on the car stereo... to a mountain bike ride cool down with my brother and nephew, all three of us singing You Can Get It If You Really Want... to a resort in Jamaica, where Venitha and I transposed Jitterbug moves to a reggae beat...

As we left Fort Canning after the fourth encore, however, I was abruptly returned to Singapore when I realized that this may have been the only Jimmy Cliff concert ever during which the air was not filled with pot smoke. What kind of scrutiny do you think Jimmy Cliff and his band received in customs?