Jah9 is a vibe. She’s a reasoning, a conversation, and a study. She’s a Note to Self, as proclaimed in the title of her latest 15-track album, which will be officially released on March 13 by VP Records.
A kind of solitary figure in the music industry, she defies the traditional definition of reggae artiste perhaps because ‘artiste work’ is just one peg of this multifaceted ‘sistren’. Jah9 is as much a social scientist – having completed studies at The University of the West Indies (UWI) – as she is an artiste, and when she speaks of her life in academia, it doesn’t sound lofty or pretentious.
She points out, for example, that numbering among the four collaborations on Note to Self, is one with British PhD-artiste social scientist, Akula, simply because it was important to her to “have another academic on the project”.
“I’m always on a course of study,” she says with passion. “Whether it’s through self-study or teaching and studying others or through social experimentation,” she says of her ongoing interest in the social sciences. This has led to her developing relationships with The UWI and the University of Birmingham in London.
This regal Rastafarian daughter of a Baptist pastor is also very much into yoga, a practice that doesn’t sit comfortably with the Church or the Rastafari community. But confident in her own pursuits, she is changing perceptions about this skill, which she credits with building her appreciation for herself and for equipping her with some of the tools that complement her onstage artistry. “It has changed the way I breathe and deal with myself and others. It has increased my empathy,” she says. Jah9 actually took up the practice a decade ago, and it has transformed her life so much that the student is now the teacher – and a very busy one, too.
While getting ready to start a new round of teaching her Yoga on Dub sessions, which are becoming increasingly popular internationally, she also has commitments with the university, she is preparing for a tour, putting together a festival, in addition to prepping the release of her third studio album.
“This is my most collaborative album so far,” she says of the project. “Clive Hunt is the major co-producer, and then I’m working with two young producers, Runkus and Iyah Tosh, and then there is Teflon Zinc Fence and Bregtch Debovier from Lost Art Music out of Belgium. I was blessed to work with top engineers Errol Brown and his son, Shane, Bonzai Caruso,” she shared with The Sunday Gleaner. In addition to Akula, other artistes on the album include Chronixx, Pressure Buss Pipe, and Tarrus Riley
Note To Self, she says, represents her vision. “I wanted to do something that was a little more accessible in terms of music than previous work and inspire introspection. It is a thought-provoking album. Each song is a note to myself.Hopefully, people will listen to the album and relate to the themes; gain some benefit from seeing how I deal with my issues,” Jah9 said.
Grew up in the church
“I didn’t grow up in the dancehall. I mean … I’m a pastor’s daughter,” she states as a prelude to a reasoning centred on her ‘tek whey yuself’ approach to artiste life. But as this once socially awkward, “proper nerd” during high school puts it, “I like my own company. I don’t like to share.”
Having entered the dancehall as an adult – post-UWI and after a stint in corporate – Jah9 is unconcerned with the trappings and definitions of what constitutes a successful reggae artiste. She admits, however, that there are certain aspects of the business that can be challenging.
“The best part is that I get to make a living by living my life, but the fact is that because I came into this as an adult, it means that I don’t suffer fools. It was unprecedented coming in as a woman, a producer, overcoming preconceived notions. I value my time. It is always quality vs quantity,” she explains.
Huge on empowerment, whether female or otherwise, Jah9 reacts soberly to the fact that a woman has finally won the reggae Grammy. “That’s history. I liked Koffee’s speech about the influence of others, but I have mixed feelings. She is in a major record deal. It’s as if you haffi have big money. History has been made, but I would have been happy with anyone who wins. My favourite artistes have never been nominated for a Grammy. For me, it doesn’t mean the same thing. There’s definitely undoubted significance,” was her take.
Upon the release of Note To Self, Jah9 will unveil a short documentary of the same title, which combines the album’s core themes into a series of visual tales that connect at the root.