There are certain artists who aren’t really noted for their singing prowess. Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Mos Def, even music icons like Nina Simone, Bob Marley and Fela aren’t what you’d call “singers’ singers”. But they are revered for their delivery, poignancy, prolific and sometimes progressive and political lyrics, moving and inspiring millions of people.
Janine Cunningham, known Jah9 is a new(er) artist I believe falls into this category. She started out as a spoken word artist in her native Jamaica, and like many before her evolved to putting her poetry to music. I went to her her recent debut NYC show at Milk River, a beautiful gem of a club in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. (Brooklyn really has taken the lead in having music venues). The full crowd was made up of young bohemian rastas, old school dreads and few brave hipsters. Jah9 is strikingly beautiful; fit and wiry, flawless skin framed by jet black locs and sparkling coals for eyes that fix their intense gaze on various disciples in the audience. She initially comes across as quite somber, but she suddenly transforms into a charismatic, confident dancing sprite, her voice more impressive live than her record reveals. What I DO like about her voice is her pristine articulation and the depth she conveys; in her case you really want to understand what she’s saying because her lyrics are so intriguing and on point. She shares just the right amount of jokes and anecdotes (particularly during a few false starts and challenging sound issues). Before introducing “Gratitude” from her debut album New Name, she literally led the room through a yoga breathing exercise, the entire crowd obediently complying! The title track is an homage to King Selassie and of course drew reverent shouts, and lyrics like “straightening their follicles while twisting their minds” brought cheers and nods of approval. Jah9 speaks of female power and respect, she urges sustainability and the ponders the hypocrisy of what was once the illegal marijuana trade now being snatched by exploitive corporations; she warns of a corrupt system that doesn’t want you to succeed. (She also shares that she STEAMS her ganga, which is much healthier for you beneficially and saves your lungs). Not all her lyrics are heavy though; the senuous and buoyant hit “Avocado” is a testament to what my friend Tyehimba observed, “Y’all sisters LOVE your avow.”
Most of Jah9‘s videos are visual eye candy with exceptional production and cinematography, illustrating the tracks beautifully. You can almost smell the hibiscus and the mango trees.
Backed by the phat Dub Treatment Band, she put on a very dynamic show. Jah9 is not to be slept on. She is dead serious, and definitely a priestess who wants to share her powers with you. She’s made a formidable debut, and if you are a lover of roots reggae with conscious and progressive messages of love, female power and Black pride with phat, bass-heavy reggae rhythms with real instruments, do not hesitate to purchase New Name. I have it on heavy rotation, and you will catch yourself humming several tunes; they are sticky and quickly grow on you.
Jah9 implores: always stand straight with your shoulders thrown back, feet pointing forward and your face to the sun.