Jamaican Reggae artist and yoga teacher Jah9 has been creating new meaning in her life since she decided to keep the name that her clever uncle coined for her from "Janine."
A poet first, she infuses her songs with a wide range of socially conscious inspirations—Rastafarianism, yogic philosophy, and her favorite fruit, the avocado. YogaCity NYC's Kathleen Kraft spoke with her to learn more about how the Rastafarian philosophy jives with yoga, her work with at-risk kids, and her upcoming U.S. music tour—with a stop at SOB's in NYC— where she’ll showcase her songs of liberation.
Kathleen Kraft: How did you get interested in yoga?
Jah9: It started as a physical thing. In Jamaica, kids are naturally athletic—they run around, are into bush climbing, are flexible—all of these things are part of an active country lifestyle. I got introduced to it about a decade ago and started to practice seriously. In 2009 or 2010, I met my first yoga trainer, Subhadra Bowman, a Jamaican who was living in the States, and brought the practice back to Jamaica. Before that, yoga was isolated to a particular part of the population here. She started a teacher training and I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of it, and it was my vision to share it. I realized that it could be really beneficial for the average Jamaican person.
KK: You’ve said there are similarities between yoga and Rastafarianism.
J9: Beyond asana, the philosophy of yoga is one of liberation from suffering, which is in line with what Rastafarianism represents. Slavery ended, but the Africans in Jamaica and the Caribbean were just left to fend for themselves, without any protection from the police and armies. The education system wasn’t there to prepare them for life, and the church was based in a doctrine that was oppressive to women. The Rastafarians said that Europe could not determine their standards. They spoke of love for self and for liberation, and for how you live with your environment.
KK: You’ve said that your music naturally gives way to discussions about postures and meditation. Tell us about that.
J9: My music is mostly a documentation of my personal and spiritual journey. I’m a poet first, and I give more of my personal self in my poetry. In my music, I am more particular about my offering to the world, sending out positive affirmations for other people and for self as well. It’s the understanding that breath is key. I talk about it as a place I go to—to the breath. I think we should be practicing a consistent breath through life, and the music calls attention to this. Open your heart, roll your shoulders back, point your toes forward—I mention it in my songs and on stage because I can’t teach everyone asana!
KK: You teach yoga to at-risk youths?
J9: The idea is to bring the practice to those who have never been exposed to it. We teach them how to build their own practice, self-study, and take little steps towards awakening consciousness, which is in tune with Rastafarian philosophy. I recently went to Malta and spent some time with the refugees who were fleeing the continent—it’s a serious weight on an individual to be in a little boat worrying about their life. And then they go to these places, and they are completely out of their elements, so there’s no perfect continent for the practice. The intention is to frequent islands like Malta, where the African population has fled to, and share the practice there. Yoga is service.
KK: What is yoga on Dub (electronic reggae)?
Jah9: The idea started because I found instrumental Dub to be very inspiring. As a poet, it’s what inspired me to start writing to music. It’s got a heavy drum and bass and is down tempo, and features instruments one at a time. It’s very meditative and creates an environment, and I found that conducive to my creative practice and my personal yoga practice. And in my teaching, I found that, for people who were intimidated by a yoga class, the music helped put them in their own spaces. They could follow the tempo and lock their breath to it.
And it’s tied to roots music, so it’s a fitting space for the conscious messages of it—the Jamaican experience. I love traditional Indian music too, and, as a producer, I am working on incorporating the instruments into instrumental Dub for the purpose of yoga. Those projects are on the way. As for yoga on Dub, it’s just putting yoga in a more ital space.
J9: It’s a word we use in Jamaica that means vital, organic, indigenous, natural. Strictly ital!
KK: Speaking of ital, tell us about your hit Avocado and how you’ve promoted it.
J9: We could have sent it out to the Reggae community as a nice 80s-style song, but we sent it out to the wellness community. The messages are fitting for wellness and working on the male-female relationship as well as understanding what community is. I actually wrote it over breakfast. It was kind of a joke, but my producer said that it had to go on the album. I was reluctant, but you have to give people entertainment sometimes!