Jimmy Cliff Works "Magic"

Strummer, Sting, Wyclef among guests on reggae legend's new

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For his first new studio album in six years, Jimmy Cliff had planned a set called "Fantastic Plastic People." But then a parade of guests -- including Wyclef Jean, Sting, Annie Lennox and the late Joe Strummer -- contacted him wanting to contribute, and the collaborative alchemy that ensued inspired the new title, Black Magic. The latest release from the man who transformed from reggae legend to reggae icon for his starring turn in and soundtrack for 1972's cult classic The Harder They Come will be released on Artemis Records on August 24th.

"I really had no plans to do a duet type album," Cliff says. "People just gravitated towards the project when they heard that Jimmy Cliff had a new album. The title just refers to the way that all these different people came together."

Black Magic came about after Cliff met the Euthrymics' Dave Stewart through a mutual friend. "I'd admired the Euthrymics' music over the years," he says. "So we just started talking. After about thirty minutes we said, 'Let's do a song.'" By the end of the following day, the pair had recorded "Jamaican Time." "It was only natural that we continue," Cliff says, and he and Stewart collaborated on a few other songs, with Stewart producing the album.

Cliff had been writing new songs since his last album, 1999's Humanitarian, but Black Magic also features his take on a Joe Strummer original, "Over the Border." Cliff had met Strummer during the latter's days with the Clash, and both men were fans of each other's work. "He turned up one day with some lyrics," Cliff says. "He said, 'I thought of you, Jimmy, when I wrote these.' I asked him how he wanted to record it, and he said, 'I dunno. I just wrote these lyrics.' It was such a great feeling to record that song with him, so spontaneous. He looked so great -- I was shocked when I heard he'd died." The song would be among the last recordings Strummer ever made.

Wyclef and Cliff, who recorded "Dance" together, were also acquainted prior to Black Magic, as Jean had plans to include Cliff in a movie he wanted to shoot with the Fugees before they broke up. "We have so many things in common," Cliff says. "We both have a wide outlook in music, he has a Caribbean background as well. It was a natural fit."

Black Magic is a stylistically and lyrically varied affair, as is Cliff's habit when recording. The new songs range from celebratory [the Caribbean-tinged soul of "(Ooh, La, La, La) Let's Go Dancin'" with Kool and the Gang and dancehall star Bounty Killer guesting] to socially conscious ("War in Jerusalem" and the 9/11-inspired "Terror"). Also guesting on the record are former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and former tennis pro Yannick Noah.

Cliff says he hopes to line up European tour for this year, followed by a few select dates in the U.S. A full-fledged tour will likely follow in 2005.