Reggae | The Whole ‘9’ – Wombman, Divine Order & Changing the World

Irie™ Magazine | Reggae - Jah9

Written by: Tami Tsansai

The Whole ‘9’

Wombman, Divine Order & Changing the World

We’ve taken you on a journey of Jah9’s becoming so far and are sure as the story continues to unfold, you, like us, are probably even more intrigued… especially against the backdrop of ‘9’, her sophomore album release. The timeline is interesting – from performing her poetry at small shows around 2009 and translating this skill to layering in music, the jazz and dub instrumentals she most identified with and which caught the attention of keyboardist and flautist Sheldon Bernard, who now plays alongside her in The Dub Treatment band and was the first to see the potential in her and encourage her to start recording with reggae great, Beres Hammond. Working with Don Corleon Records to release her first two singles and moving on to record with famed DJ/producer Rory Stone Love, with whom she joined forces to release her first album, New Name, in 2013 —a declaration of her journey with Rastafari and pairing purpose with music. It won album of the year on, no small feat for a virtual newcomer, and she has since toured extensively in the US and Europe, all while coming more into her own as an artiste.

Jah9 has been sharpening her craft from all angles, flavouring customary lyrical potency and smoothness with the kind of confidence that only comes with self-actualisation and an understanding of the self as an African, within a spiritual context of light work. Her integration of all these life lessons into her being and translating that into an outward expression of self through music is welcomed and enjoyed across the world – hers, she says, is a unique blend of “jazz on dub” infused with yoga and meditation, poetry and advocacy. Those closest to her are quick to testify to her livity and music being one and the same, a fact that allows her at once to teach and revolutionize. It is a story of passion and continuous growth tied in with manifestation according to Divine order… after all, 9 for her, was pre-ordained. Janine “Jah9” Cunningham has learned to understand herself according to the spiritual connotations of the perfect number. It is woven into the fibre of life and her own existence as part of her name. Jah9 incorporates that to pique our interest as listeners, bidding us to seek the knowledge that is readily available to those of us with enquiring minds.

I personally especially identify with the fact that from a foundation and springboard of Christian teachings she has sufficiently unlearned some half-truths and misinformation and sought the facts for herself and, as she tells us, recognized that what’s taught to us lovingly by those we love, who love us (but are not the most informed), is not necessarily true all the time. Indeed, while “stepping away from these teachings comes with great rebellion and anarchy”, one cannot exist without the other, in other words, hearing lies teaches us to really grasp the truth. There’s also the fact that for Jah9, Christ is “not a man who lived long ago, but someone to aspire to, who teaches us that living a righteous life means being willing to detach… dying to this world and truly surrendering to earth”. Her spiritual awakening is informed by simple, yet profound principles – disconnect, observe, learn, grow and, in so doing, make a contribution. Understand that finding and living your truth is the way to attract abundance and since we are all on our own path, our pace is ours alone. And so it is necessary for us to relinquish comparison which comes from fear and strive for a less materially opulent life in order to eliminate stress and cultivate wealth where it really matters.

Carrying that energy of spirit work into her brand of elevating message music for the world, she has matriculated and matured in such a way that she is now looking at her craft from a new angle, and is taking full creative license by producing her sophomore album, 9, herself. To be fair (and clear, too) Jah9 has always been directly involved and heavily invested in the making of her music so that it is an authentic representation of who she is and what she wants to communicate within a given time. “My relationship with my music is like art. When it was poetry, it was mine and when it became music it was that but with me adding more things onto it” however, she tells IRIE, with her newly established Steam Chalice Records, she now has access to the requisite resources that allow her to be more hands on in the production and release of her album. This time around she can be even truer to the process by putting even more into it. With this move the industry will her as not just an artiste, but also a creator of music ‘from scratch’ given this opportunity to express and please herself by releasing something that is uniquely hers. One thing we know is that this is just the beginning, as she says, “I have so much music that is waiting to be produced and now I finally have an outlet for it”.

She describes the new album as mainly “hardcore roots” mixed with her signature jazz on dub elements, but explains its most notable feature is the way that it embraces and celebrates herself as woman. “It’s very feminine”, she says, “not in the sense of clichéd girly topics, but in being dark, chaotic… sometimes not immediately understood and being unapologetically so”. Through ‘9’, she demonstrates femininity is a strength, not a weakness as society often wants us to think, but as she rightly elucidates; “the journey is to understand it and master it, master earth and heal the world because is we who possess that creative power, we are the embodiment of it and so all correction going come from us … earth is waiting to do as we say once we (wombmen) know ourself. A deh so me wah talk to our sister dem from, complete power. No victim, no powerlessness, none of that illusion, you zimme? So it’s kinda like that.” In a word, powerful. It also reflects what it’s like to journey through varying degrees of womanhood or to put it more simply, what it means to be a woman on any given day. “As a wombman, I get to be a man and I get to be a woman, too, because I have things that don’t have nutn to do wid womb that I have to say… that I can say, because I have womb. I have the luxury of being able to scold you and still being able to hold you and nurture you and hug you and express love to you in a way that make it bearable to get it from I.”

She believes it’s essential to unleash that deeply feminine part of Jah9, the woman creator, right now, having strategically highlighted the militant side of herself first. “I purposely put out that part of me that is not my sexuality… myself, the truth, once that was established and you know say… this is who she is. This is what she represents, this is what she is a conduit for, then you can say, okay, she’s a female too and we give them that in a dosage that is manageable. This album now, we upping the dose of feminine a little bit, but it’s still 9, still the essence of I; it’s just more about what I know, think, feel and experience as a wombman.”

In other words, it’s a shift from universal truths to something that feels much more personal. When we asked about the dosage being given to the brothers, she was quick to point out that this is a soup everyone will have to share, or, as she puts it, “Same way we a give di men! I not trying to special treat dem. The brothers are so detached from their feminine that they need this too,” further joking that she will be singing such good, truth-filled, love songs that they can hear and enjoy its beauty without having to “cover dem balls and wait to be kicked”. Jah9 reminded us that as wombmen, in our interactions with men, we are to look at it from a position of strength and deal with them in such a way that does not reflect fear, but understanding of our divine power as their balancing opposites who also need to soften ourselves because the world is rough and often hardens us, too.

“Understand say you name woman so be gentle, not because you’re afraid, but because you have the power to exercise that freely in this earth, so just do your duty, be soft. Find the little voice within you and just listen to it, that inner voice that is God. Find it, learn it, know it, read about it if you need to. Practice discipline, connect with earth. Identify that which is righteous in self and then surrender, but stay rooted.” Excellent advice, especially as we see where her own livity seems to indicate this realization and makes us even more eager to hear her highly anticipated sophomore project. And if the first stop on her #Yearof9Tour here in Kingston at Nanook was arresting, we cannot begin to imagine the profundity of experience that ‘9’ will bring with its release. Take for example, the single ‘Hardcore’, bursting with provocative, slap-you-in-the-face reality type lyrics that end with an excerpt from His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I’s closing remarks to the League of Nations in 1963, the same speech Bob Marley quoted in one of his most affecting songs to date, War.”

In her own words, the album is “going to address things that will make people uncomfortable; it might feature something that forces you to experience it for a long time, like a nine-minute song, and realise that you just sat and listened to one song for nine minutes, but it’s okay, because it was a good, IRIE vibe”. Just what the industry, and the world, by extension, needs in this time and she strongly believes that we, as African descendants and especially Jamaican creatives who have our unique spirit to offer the world should aim to develop our nation in that way because “the creators are very activated right now”. She is optimistic about life and where the creative industry can go, but also grounded enough to know that it will not happen overnight, but requires “conversations in love and owning of our femininity”. The change the world needs, she believes, is in the hands of the wombman collective who will amplify the right things and set them in motion to make it so. If you press play and absorb the magnificent precursor that is her 9MM Vol2 mixtape, you will be duly convinced too—we highly suggest you do so, by the way.

Of the ‘9’ album itself, she says: “I wouldn’t describe it too much… I’m just looking forward to hearing how people describe it because at the same time, you are a vehicle and a conduit too, so the music that comes, you cannot take full responsibility for it.” And just who are the listeners she feels it will attract? “People who are aspirational, optimistic, unafraid… revolutionary spirits”. We here at IRIE say, “by all means, count us in.”