World Beat Canada: What's in a name? Quite possibly a dramatic new direction in one's life. Through the transformation of Janine Cunningham to Jah9, a girl became woman, woman found her cause and her voice, and the world welcomed a powerful and spiritual singer of Jazz on Dub. Jah9 joins the program. Where have we reached you Jah9?
Jah9: In Kingston, Jamaica.
WBC: And what's it like in Kingston today?
Jah9: Very, very, VERY warm!
WBC: You've sung in church, school, youth choirs, but when did you start to develop your very personal vocal style and delivery?
Jah9 : After university. Right at the time I transitioned out of university into corporate, I started to develop my own vocal style with instrumental dub.
WBC: Tell us about the music making partnership between you and producer, RoryStoneLove.
Jah9: That was a really irie vibration! I met him through another Rastafari person who was a conduit for instrumental dub for me. So, he introduced Rory to me now as a producer who was looking for a female vocalist for a rockin' riddim, and that song turned into 'Mister Right'. And this one song, because of how irie the relationship was and the chemistry was very good and he understood the really deep roots I was looking for. He was willing to give me more of what I was looking for. And, he was also in a similar place in his life where he was coming into his own, learning more about himself and transitioning into the next phase of what Rory StoneLove was. Because, he's kind of one of our icons here in Jamaica. So, that transition happened for him around the same time. So it was really irie for me and i just made that bond that much stronger
WBC: Campus life can be a crucible for alternative thought. You're the daughter of a Baptist minister but what happened when you heard the teachings of Haile Selassie and today how do you reconcile the two influences on your spiritual life?
Jah9: Well I think they reconcile themselves just because your find that within every kind of spiritual understanding, overstanding. It it to all the same purpose, a kind of reuniting with your higher self. And that direction is present in both philosophies. The manifestation of it in practice, through the church leaves a lot wanting, but it is a very good way for many people to identify that the spirit is separate from flesh. And, in serving that purpose I understand the original intent of the church. But, my parents have always been very spiritual people as well. So I learned about His Imperial Majesty and I learned about Africa which helped me reconcile a lot of issues I was having in he Christian church and realized that all my people came from the original place. So, you strip away what you don't need and you stay in the heart of it which is the real thing, your higher self. Whether you call it God or what other name you choose because of the language you speak, and because of your conditioning. And, that is what we all have in common.
WBC: The voice is only the instrument. How did your poetry and flow develop. You say so much in each song yet it's all delivered with the lyrical vocal improv of jazz. That's no easy feat.
Jah9: You know where my greatest influence is, jazz. But, the things I credit to influence me are those that bring spirit and joy and have inspired me. So, I would say what truly influenced me were scriptures and hymns. Hymns are very. clear and almost intuitive in their melody. And, that's how I learned a lot of melody structure. It is still required in singing gospel music and foundation jams, where I came to learn to use my voice, how to free my voice. Because, the structure of classical music, when I went to private school, most of the music was classical and then jazz kind of tore me away from that, and gave me the opportunity to be more flexible and colour outside the lines.
WBC: worldbeatcanada radio is on the air with very special guest, Jah9, a powerful new voice for Jamaican conscious reggae. Connect with her through her big, beautiful new website for New Name. Simply type Jah9.com into your browser. Jah9, you practice what you preach, please talk a bit about your work with at risk youth in Kingston, the PSA campaign for Healing of the Nation and Manifesto Jah.
Jah9: When you put it all down like that ... because a lot of times the work that we do we try to define it in a way so we can put it down on paper. That is something that comes from the traditional treadmill of the work and the corporate. You have to be able to build a resume. Then, when you're an artist you have to explain to people what it is you are doing on the ground. Then these things become very important. A movement like Manifesto Jah came out of a need, and an availability of one who is capable of making people relate. I was just coming out of the corporate, and I was able to put a lot of my corporate experience into a program for development of youth. There were other youth workers there who were similarly inspired. I was able to bring a particular kind of twist to it that would help me to move in a direction of advocacy; the arts and youth .. all us were moving forward and inspiring each other and moving forward in that vision and we were able to make a real impact at the time of inception. And, from that came many other similar festival of the arts and we started working with visual artists and other artists to lift that spirt.
WBC: Advocacy through the arts, I really appreciate that. Some other voices make an appearance on New Name like on Imagine and Legitimate. Any shout outs to other talent on the disc?
Jah9: On the disc I have Cedric Myton of The Congos. He's one of the elder Rastifarian singers who has really impacted me in terms of his commitment to the message, his family and to the mission of Rastifarians. He's a humble, great man that the younger generation of Jamaican don't even know, so I wanted to make sure that I honored his entire generation by having him on the New Name album, because that its an important part of our tradition as well; our spiritual, meditative tradition, the same place we bring the spirit from, we bring the music from. Another artist I brought in was Protege who, when I was starting to form my musical career, he was there doing the same thing as well and we were able to get a lot of energy from each other as the movement was starting to take shape. And, that mother of unity, of the masculine and the feminine, we were at the core of something and you see through that manifestation a whole new scene born out of that now. A lot of the energy is just born out of the union of youth of my generation that's coming together. Protege was the representative of my generation that I chose for the record. That's on the song 'Legitimate'. And, the song 'Imagine' has words from His Imperial Majesty, so it is probably my third feature!
WBC: I'd like to take this home with good intentions. Can you set up 'Intentions' for us?
Jah9: They say it is a man's world. You look at this man's world and you say, "Look how you've brought this world to ruin." his is what happens in a male-dominant society This is what the world looks like. And, we have to question the intentions of one who would thrive and would want the world to come to you as it is in this period of unconsciousness, selfish gain and capitalist poison of people's food and all of these things You look at the way the world is, especially as woman. And, I tell you as a woman, even in their drudgery they look at things with their hearts and not just with their brains. If man did the same they would be able to see the the hurt they are causing to families, or their communities or their societies or their cities. When we are only dominated by logic and forget to think with the heart we don't see the things that are needed. So, that's why I say I know, because I am woman. Because it takes the feminine energy rising and unifying to heal everyone of us because she can see the damage that has been inflicted.