Roots | Jah9 – Purpose, Passion & Music as a Catalyst for Change

Irie™ Magazine | Roots - Jah9

Interviewed by: Splash & Tami Tsansai; Words by: Tami Tsansai


Purpose, Passion & Music as a Catalyst for Change

And it came to pass on the 20th day of the seventh month in the year of 9 the heavens opened and blessed the city of Kingston with showers ahead of a hard-hitting musical message delivered to the people of the land via the spiritual channel that is Jah9, and it was good. In a quest to understand a bit about Jah9 and her music, one must first understand the symbolic importance of Master Number 9.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, simply put, the reggae artiste, poet, advocate, yoga instructor and, now, producer (we’ll get into that later) Janine Cunningham or Jah9 as we’ve come to know, was the embodiment of self-awareness as she performed at cultural hub Nanook in Kingston. It was the day of 9 (July 20: 2+0+7=9) in the year of 9 (2016: 2+0+1+6=9), and, undoubtedly, her time to shine. In so doing, to also enlighten us all who were blessed to bear witness and learn from what we experienced. The first stop in her #Yearof9 tour, just two days before she left for North America, Jah9 and her band The Dub Treatment indeed treated a watchful, patient and highly receptive audience to an incredible performance.

Interestingly and synchronously, too, the rain that delayed the proceedings for a bit also ended at 9:00 PM, just in time for the show to start – talk about divine timing. It was a special night and all of us there knew it. We waited for the performance to unfold not knowing exactly what to expect besides hearing tracks from the upcoming album and her equally impressive catalogue live and that it was going to be great. What we didn’t realise was that we would be taken on an ethereal journey where Jah9, imbued with passion and purpose, would not only thrill us with powerful new material, much-loved favourites, and thought-provoking messages interspersed with wit and light humor, but also transport us to a heightened state of our own self-awareness and grounding through the breath. All while charging us to introspect, reflect and adjust self according to righteousness; it made me profoundly proud to be woman and I couldn’t help thinking, ‘what a time to be alive!’

It felt like I was witnessing history, and the awe-stricken, reality observing faces all around me pointed to the fact that I was not alone. There was an almost palpable collective consciousness and consumption of the presentation that we all felt, needed and loved in that moment. To top it off, everything was on point. The band, brilliant. Her vocals, lyrics, speeches, performance, deep breathing, herb steaming … all excellent. Seeing her own her self, her purpose and confidently exhibit her passion, displaying Jah9 unfiltered and showing us that the yogi, the reader, the poet, the artist, the spiritual being and the advocate are all one in the same wombman was quite inspiring and it certainly resonated. That was the moment for me where I truly realised that she is doing her work and making her contribution. With this issue already in the pipeline, it became even clearer that our decision to feature some of her closest friends bearing witness to this same fact was meant to be. Follow the journey to find out when they, too, had their ‘Aha moment’…

Dr Kadamawe K’nife (Knife), economist and lecturer in strategic planning, entrepreneurship and sustainable development at the University of the West Indies Mona campus

Jah9 was always somebody who would express herself through the creative space, whether she did a model —that’s how me know her, she started when Butcher’s Block (UWI) would have them cultural events and my bredren DMS usually carry through some new models. Jah9 was one of them barrage of sister wah usually come through… yeah man. As it start to go further now, dem start to show dem skills in terms of the spoken word, and Jah9 was one of dem who dominate a lot of those spoken word events being kept on Taylor Hall (UWI, Mona campus). She was a forerunner of all of these things.

Me wah you know say one a di time Jah9 deh pon di Fire Ground and she did a do a work inna a marketing company and ting still enuh, and come to I and say, so, is not even when I realise, is when she realise… and she say watch ya now Knife, I and I a lef dis work, a just music I ago deal wid. So me look pon her and just say watch ya now sister, you see anything di I wah do, di I fi just do it yah man… cause di I just good dah way deh. I could see it… and you always know when someone is passionate about something. Whatever she do, she always puts a lot of her energy into it. Remember people who do marketing have to be very expressive, and she’s a fire person… so music is something that is very natural to her. People who are artistically inclined and good at spoken word will also evolve into music, the question is, what is dem state of consciousness? Jah9 has always been one of a very conscious set of yutes. I always used to observe her and even before she go into music, me know dat is a sister who will commit herself to whatever it is she is doing. Commitment and passion crucial to do well in anything; to be able to commit oneself to something that you hold true to your self, so I think she has the pre-condition to do well… and if Jah9 was not doing music, I think that she would still be doing advocacy in the way that she’s doing now.

You see, self-actualisation is a thing and acceptance of one’s own responsibility is even more crucial, so my own awareness of who Jah9 is and what she’s supposed to do really comes from her own awareness of self, service and what self is about. She knows within herself that music is what she really likes, when somebody tells you they are going to leave a work they’re already good at to pursue something else, you know it’s not about making money, but about something that better expresses who she is. The difference between her and a lot of other artistes is Jah9 is a mission-driven person who uses music as a way of fulfilling her mission and she fully accepts that. Once you know what your mission is, and you commit to it, you will develop your skill-set in a way that helps you be so much more effective in the way that you actualize that mission, and Jah9 really reach a stage now where is almost like, automatic pilot. You cannot separate the person from the work, because dem work is dem being… so you will always see her for what she represents and who she is. It’s Rastafari enuh, that’s what Rastafari means… awareness of self and seeing oneself as a kind of enlightened being and me think she move through that process of awakening into what she is now, which is Jah9.

Sheldon Bernard, Keyboardist/Flautist, The Dub Treatment band

It’s a really interesting thing for me. I met Jah9 in probably about 2007/8 when she used to do shows around the place, you know, little performances. I heard her perform her song ‘Little Boy’ acoustic style with Seretse on guitar and I was blown away! At the time I used to work in studios and I knew there was something special there, so I approached Seretse as a fellow musician and I said to him ‘hey, we need to record her man, she sounds like she could be a serious artiste. For some reason, I don’t know why, he never responded well to it and he just didn’t take me on, but I knew it was worth it so I decided to approach her directly myself. I was seriously moved when I heard the poetry in the writing and jazz-like, mystical vibes in her singing and thought it was a very Avant-garde style and that it would work. So I approached her, kinda shyly… enuh, told her what I was thinking and she was open to the idea. I was working with Beres (Hammond) at the time, so brought her to him, he liked her sound and allowed us to start recording in his studio. I was really excited, because I knew what I heard was special so I definitely got on her case about that. We did a lot of work together too, almost completed an album, but it’s yet to be released so maybe it’s all about divine timing, the material is still very ready for the road. After that, she went on to start working with Rory Gilligan (formerly of Stone Love sound, now producing for his own Black Dub studio) and they put out a great album together (I also played on some of the tracks), but I remember in the early stages when she would always admire other artistes and I would constantly be telling her, ‘you have that same uniqueness and talent, Jah9… they’re not greater than you… they were just there before, but your time is coming’.
It’s a pleasure to see everything manifest.

Arlene Passley, Owner/Fashion Designer, Aya Wear

About six years ago I had the privilege of meeting Jah9 through a mutual sistren in a social setting. I was not aware of who she was or what she did, but I knew that she was “different”. That night as we stood outside a balcony overlooking Kingston, reasoning and listening to Lauryn Hill crooning through the speakers, she started singing along with Lauryn like most fans would, except that she sang those songs as if she had written them herself. Her gift was undeniable. As the years progressed, I became not just a friend but also a serious fan of Jah9 and her music. The more I listened to her songs and spent time in her company was the more I observed the direct connection between her lyrics and her ‘livity’ (way of life).

When she travelled to Malta not just to perform, but also to meet with some of our displaced African brothers and sisters in refugee camps, I knew that music is the medium through which her mission will be accomplished. The things she advocates in her daily life are the things she sings about. When I reason one-on-one with Jah9, it’s as if am listening to one of her songs. I’ve seen her moved to tears as we discussed the plight of our youths and disunity among our women. She emphasizes the need for women to come together in a wholesome way in order to bring about real changes, and believes very strongly that sisterhood can be healed through much love and ‘ovastanding’ because we have so much work to do. When you see her perform or listen to her music, ‘ovastand’ that she is the personification of “message music” and her work is a testament to her true calling.

Nadya Dee, Tea Lady & founder, Iyashi Herbs, blogger at An Evolution of Self: Discovering Nadya Dee

Ever since meeting Jah9 for the first time through Manifesto Jamaica in 2011 when I had just returned home from Japan, I have observed that she is a truly manifesting her Divine purpose in these times. Since then I’ve had the honour and pleasure of working with her on her biography, her music video for Avocado and, more recently, through my blog series on the Year of 9. It has been an enlightening experience witnessing her transformation throughout the years as she continues on this earthly journey and I respect the fact that she undertakes her mission with so much love and passion. Jah9 is truly a spiritual being doing some crucial works within Jah land.