The 1970s roots reggae era saw sporadic releases by female cultural artists that are among the finest examples of the subgenre. The extraordinary quality of 45s by Senya (Children of The Ghetto, Oh Jah Come Now, Roots Man), Joy White (Dread Out Deh, Check Your Daughter) and Fabian (Prophecy) is partially explained by the difficulty of getting recorded in a male-dominated reggae industry (“You should stay at home and mind the baby” sang Errol Dunkley on Be True To Your Man – their music had to be a battering ram no glass door could resist). Today, with her long awaited introductory album 'New Name', produced by Rory Gilligan from Stone Love, conscious poet and singer Jah9 summons the power of that age again.
Jah9 - New NameThe choir-singing introspective daughter of a preacher and social worker, Janine Cunningham experienced a spiritual, Afrocentric and artistic awakening while studying psychology at UWI. Like many of the Jamaican new wave, she came up through live music and performance poetry shows such as Bull Bay’s surf club Jamnesia, rather than chatting on a sound. 'New Name' follows some prodigious singles: the triumphant title track (with its Shaka-ready cascading horns and Addis - son of Augustus – Pablo’s melodica) and the militantly drummed, Africa-Unite-era-Bob-sounding Jungle (initially written for Third World’s Bunny Rugs, and featuring Janine’s musical mentor, Sheldon Bernard on flute).
With a jazz soloist’s fluidity, a singer’s voice and a poet’s flow Jah9 breathes life into perennial topics over almost exclusively minor-key backings. She is scathing on authoritarian hypocrisy (Intention, Preacher Man), a psychological tourguide to the herb (Taken, with atmospheric nonverbal scatting from the Congos’ Cedric Myton) and metaphorical on the importance of locks (single Legitimate, getting some hard bars from Protoje – returning the favour for her breakout guest-spot on his debut set). “I know” she says, not “I think” or “I believe”, and it is this steely God-given confidence that supplies these recordings a surety beyond their tender years. This is also because it is not strictly speaking her first long-player (there is an earlier project voiced with Beres Hammond, yet to be released).
Like his 2012 relick of Children of The Ghetto, Gilligan’s rhythms are glossy but tough: glistening with tree percussion, while recalling the late 70s (Pablo senior and the UK jazz dub of Aswad and Dennis Bovell). The musicianship is first rate – check Preacher Man’s turntable slow-to-a-stop of the Rockfort Rock. Bass duties come from C-Sharp’s Aeoin Hoillett and Protoje’s Danny Bassie; drums from Kirk Bennett and brass via Dean Fraser and Nambo. Yet despite using several of the team that work on Shane Brown’s productions – there are no pop crossover moves. Nor is there the slick 80s Third World redux of the Edna Manley bands.
Sometimes a record is quite simply the superb sum of its parts: a straight cultural roots album in the manner of many a foreign imitator, lovingly fashioned in Jamaica, showing the world how it’s done. Roots reggae has a new name and it is Jah9.