Janine "Jah9" Cunningham is bold. The daughter of a preacher man moves to Kingston from Falmouth, attends University, begins work in the corporate sector and "retires" at 25 to pursue her art. Her foundation was in her talent for filling books of poetry from an early age while singing in the choirs of her church and school. Raised in the Christian church, her spiritual path led to the Rastafarian faith and the practice and teaching of the eastern Yoga tradition. Her musical journey has been quite successful and fortunate by meeting up with some of Jamaica's greatest players, Seretse Small, the Jazz guitarist who helped her hone the Jazz elements, Wayne Armond the great Chalice band leader, and the great rhythm section of Kirk Bennet and Donald "Danny Bassie" Dennis she put the poetry to music and eventually to record. The release is produced by the mighty DJ Rory Gilligan for his Stone Love label.
In listening to her debut release, one is drawn in by her musical influences as the vocals echo the heroines of American Jazz, and with seasoned ear and wide range she finds her own voice through the sparseness of Dub . Combining vocals and spoken word with dub in this way, delivering lyrics with both uplifting and deep roots messages, and addressing poignant social issues from the female perspective in this present time exhibits tremendous courage.
As the release unfolds, the title track New Name hails Rasta and showcases Jah9's supreme vocals with a memorable hook, combining them with some of reggae's greatest horn lines from its grand tradition. With Intention she moves into a very emotive track, rich with strings, harmonies and percussion that "sings for justice", directing the conversation toward the leaders, the bigger heads, "I speak and I know, words are reserved for the truth, not perfect but aware of the example I set for the youth…. I sing 'cause I care and wouldn't want none of these daughters to go astray. I know from experience, the system is flawed and unfair, so I life outside it, as much as I possibly dare".
Jah9 has such interesting phrasing, on Preacher Man she addresses these figures who greatly influence her fellow Jamaican citizens, addressing the disconnect between what the people follow, as the religion of the oppressor and what the origins of African spirituality offer. The Interlude outlines the concept "as a man thinketh in his heart so is he" and extrapolates it into a mini-meditation lesson. What follows is a lovely groove, reminiscent of Forever Loving Jah from the Wailers, which picks up on this meditation, to teach the next lesson- that of "Gratitude", a tune that exudes soul and shows off Jah9's gifted pipes.
A healthy lifestyle is of the utmost priority for this yoga teacher from country and she plays with the theme in the delightful Avocado. Its vintage horns herald the journey through Jamaica's land of wood and water as the chant rides the riddim just so. With Jah9 taking cues from predecessors like Sista Carol and Sugar Minott, she points out just what the "right remedy" is in all of earth's bounty.
Many women can conjure up what qualities constitute Mr. Right, here the artist takes us through the shocking reality… that moment when we find that this just might be the one…and then ask what his intentions may be. Beautiful flutes pepper this tune and segue nicely to the one drop Jungle with its own special flute solo that shadows the melody. This song asks questions, providing a call to action while outlining the realities of the jungle out there… "for the mountains and valleys are these city streets, a future for the youths must be priority….Will you be the one, to keep moving forward and never retreat?".
The song Imagine pays tribute to the teachers like Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie I and asks us to imagine what it would be like if their writings and speeches were used like the scriptures. Or if traditional African initiation was used as a way to teach discipline, "a militant and efficient community, in unity" would be the result. As the release winds down, a bubbling organ line carries Jah9's Inner Voice, her first person understanding of how we can go within to find peace, "for in the stillness is the key to creation of wealth and happiness from positive vibration". The final tune "Taken" is a combination with The Congos' falsetto vocalist Cedric Myton. A simple piano skank opens with a few high notes from Cedric, as the lyric takes us on the journey of the chalice to "tap into the potential of your mind". As is the case with several tunes on New Name, there is a short improv for the vocalists, a bridge that finds Cedric chiming in with exclamations and rocking horns.
Jah9 has a promising future before her as a recording and performing artist. The time she has taken to compose, record and perform these songs has shown itself in what can be considered a new sub-genre of reggae, a type of salve for what ails at present, a lioness is roaring, and asking us to hear her call.