Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Cliff kicked off celebrations of Bob Marley’s 68th birthday on the eve of the anniversary by sitting in with the resident band throughout the one-hour television broadcast of “Late Night with David Letterman.”
The 64-year-old reggae legend who also holds the distinction of being Jamaica’s only living musician to hold the island’s Order of Merit marked the Feb. 6 occasion by representing reggae to team with bandleader Paul Shaffer and musicians to provide musical interludes. Joining the very short list of Caribbean talents asked to national, late night television exposure, Cliff’s latest invitation was also prompted by a controversial advertizing campaign by the German manufacturers of Volkswagen amplifying his song “Get Happy.” The commercial allegedly garnered five million viewers on the internet before debuting during the Superbowl football game. Its message voiced in Jamaican patois suggested that happiness should prevail against adversary. That the individual making the claim does not fit the Jamaican stereotype appearance or race quickly created a controversy in the USA. Prior to the anticipated football show-down, prime-time, morning television shows spotlighted the ad perceived by many to be racist. The island’s prime minister and government officials did not hesitate to defend the campaign.
“I urge persons all across the globe to do exactly what the commercial portrays, which is to tap into your inner Jamaican and get happy,” Tourism Minister Wykham McNeill said.
According to McNeill, the ad is very creative and truly taps into the mass appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people seem to have cultivated globally.
“I believe the commercial is also a tribute to the popularity of reggae music worldwide and I salute Jimmy Cliff for being a true Jamaican ambassador through his outstanding music.”
Two days after the New Orleans game, the guitar strumming, recording artist stopped into New York to reprise his rendition of the song first popularized by the theme song for “The Partridge Family” television show decades ago.
‘hello world here’s a song that we’re singing
come on get happy
a whole lot of loving is what we’ll be bringing
we’ll make you happy”
The lyrics and music bolster the message of Jamaica being a happy place where a positive disposition could provide the formula and solution when one drives the German vehicle.
“Trav’lin’ along there’s a song that we’re singin’,
C’mon get happy
A whole lotta lovin’ is what we’ll be bringin’,
We’ll make you happy
We’ll make you happy,
We’ll make you happy
An overwhelming number of Jamaicans showed solidarity with supporters of the 30-second selling spot. Grammy-winning, dancehall artist Sean Paul also disagreed with dissenters describing the ad as “entertainment.”
“To me it’s no different than the Italian accents in ‘The Sopranos’ or the English accent in Guy Ritchie’s movies.”
Since the ad aired, record sales of Cliff’s music has benefited.