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Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - Comment

"There is a force in Jamaica that must be a spiritual thing"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview

In part two of our exclusive interview with Jah9 at her home in Kingston she talks about performing in France, what dub music means, and how Jamaica relates to other cultures around the world…

Jah9 in Paris

On her 2014 performance at Garance festival in France on Haile Selassie’s birthday. (She stopped the show, beat drums and led a chant saying “The concert is finished. Reverence begins”)

That was my favourite show because of that. I didn’t want to perform on that date. I wanted to have my own personal reverence. I was supposed to perform the following day and my agent messed it up. I had to transform that performance to highlight His Majesty so that it felt like more than “I’m going to go entertain people”.

I didn’t know how it would play out. I remember a couple of days before thinking “We’re going to have a binghi segment in this. We’re not changing the set for any other show but for this show we have to put that vibration there”. But we didn’t rehearse that. I just went there saw the drums on stage and was like “You know? I’m going to play drums too”. It evoked a kind of militancy in me “It doesn’t matter whether these people receive this. This is work that has to be done”.

There is a thing where you are on a stage looking out at a sea of people and realise every person in that venue is silent and looking at you. Because of the kind of music that I do, I have that experience a lot. But on that stage there was a serious reverence. Somebody told me lightning was flashing over my head through that part of the show and I was like “Yeah, of course! That is the Almighty Force!” This was something metaphysical happening and everybody who was able to tune into it could feel it. The reports from ones who were there weren’t “Oh Jah9 is on stage” it was “The energy in this space right now is real”.

On dub music and whether foreign youth are becoming less interested in lyrics and prefer heavy drum and bass without context

I remember when I went to Rototom there was a huge stage with thousands of people. But if you left backstage and went around there were still people who were at some different little stage even when the headliner was on just listening to the sound systems. It was just the sound they wanted to hear. I was like “So they don’t like those artists?” But you are right. There are people who are not trying to hear anything. They don’t speak the language and they just want to feel the beat. And I think this is enough you know? That is a great foot in the door.

I think a lot of dub is exactly that for me too. I liked that it had so many open spaces but I was already infected by reggae and roots and the message. I could appreciate dub because I had my own words and dub could give me a space where I could put my poetry. It inspired Jah9 out of me - the artist who emerged and is now sharing with the world. Had it not been for dub maybe I wouldn’t have found a space that I was comfortable in. Maybe I would keep my music to myself. The music with a lot of sounds in it – I can listen to it but it won’t inspire me to create on it. Dub is a creative energy.

Dub is a creative energy

I can understand why the youths would think words are not important because especially now, words are being recycled. The messages are being recycled and you can’t feel them. So if you are consistently presenting them with the same story, if you’re not even trying to change their perspective, they can take the words out and the next generation will not even have the option – they’ll just not even have the words. But I like the idea that they’re listening to dub because inevitably it means the word will find them. You can’t take it out so it’s just exposure really.

Here in Jamaica the youths don’t even business with dub. It’s just more over the past few years because we’re all doing it together and the light is on us. All of us need to move through the earth together and remind the world that reggae music is not entertainment – reggae music is spirit music. It is healing. That was its original intention.

On whether her next album will be a second one produced by Rory Gilligan or Rebellion the unreleased Beres Hammond album we discussed in her last interview

The thing changes. I’ve been working on the album I started with Beres and Sheldon Bernard for between five and seven years. I remember year after year I was like “The album’s going to be released this year” until it was just “We’re working on it! When it’s ready you’ll see it”. Then Rory Stone Love came into the picture and that force was boom boom boom boom. That was music that was produced as opposed being created around songs. So that process and that relationship were way easier than trying to get the attention of whoever to finish the final processes. Rory and we were right there doing it together so we could just – bam – hit it out. New Name wasn’t supposed to come out then but it was just born in the midst of it and had to come out. Now there’s another project pending that we’re starting to work on but the intention was to release Rebellion. But then that other project started to happen more quickly and Rebellion started looking like “We need to take some more time on it”.

And then in the midst of all that I am alive and I have work to do that doesn’t have anything to do with music! There’s this demand like “You’re a musician so you have to put out an album or something’s wrong”. No! I left corporate Jamaica for that reason – people expecting and telling me what to do and when I need to do it. If I don’t feel like releasing an album then I will not! And I will take the time and go into communities and do work that is also necessary. Work we are doing on education because I haven’t had any children yet and I plan to have some youths soon. I have to spend some time working to make sure my children don’t have to go into the formal education system so there is a place for them to learn and grow without the limitations of western education. There are things to be done in yoga and transformation. There are also some women here in Jamaica who are going through terrible things. I have to make some time for them too because these are the people who the music can inspire. These are the people who inspire me too. To see resilience is extremely inspiring.

But the creative process is always happening. Music is always being created. So it may just be when I can get a studio space for a few weeks and dump three albums onto a hard drive that will come out in great succession. Or maybe three years pass and nothing happens and I am open to that. I’m not one of those mainstream artists where there is an expectation. There’s no big record label deal so nobody’s pressuring me.

On her musical projects for 2015 and beyond

Jah9 in ParisBut I definitely plan to release something this year. We wanted to try for February but now we’re going to try for May. That will be an EP project with Rory as opposed to a full album. The Rebellion project I am looking forward to releasing at the top of next year – fingers crossed! I’m so excited about that album. I feel it will be timeless because there’s nothing that has dated it. The realities are still the same.

I don’t normally do a lot of singles but there are some producers I am working with this year like Tippy and Jah David. There’s a song with Mellow Mood band out of Italy, a song with Patrice. I don’t necessarily know when this is going to be released but that’s ok. So it’s kind of “Stop expecting – leave me alone! It’s coming!”

On whether she would consider putting out a live album

I think that’s more where I’m headed in terms of presentation. There are different ways that the band will incarnate because Jazz On Dub gives me that space. I might trod with a bass player, a saxophonist and a percussionist. I did something in Washington DC where it was just me and Sheldon Bernard on keyboards. I have some acoustic vibes on the internet as well. Because it is so message driven there are a lot of ways you can play with the music.

Over the years I’ve tried to build a band but I’ve realised that’s not really what I’m supposed to be doing now. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot more musicians because I’ve had to work with a lot of musicians. It’s limited me in the sense that I can’t create a particular set of music and grow it with a certain set of musicians and say that is "the band". But at the same time I’ve gotten to experiment with different sounds from a lot of different kinds of minds.

I’m excited about the potential to come. I haven’t tied myself to “this is how I do albums” so there is potential to do anything. I didn’t come up in this industry. I didn’t want to be an artist. I wasn’t trying to “bust”. I just wanted to enjoy all the things that come with the freedom of not having to go to a nine to five. I can take three months off and disappear where no one can find me then come back working in Africa with Afrobeat musicians creating the same word sound, incarnated in different ways. Dub for me is in post-production. Dub means stripping it down. So we have dubbed reggae but you can dub anything. It might be an 80 piece orchestra but we will dub it down and dub it up and create the spaces for anything we’re doing. We’re going to create the space for listening and meditation in music.

We're going to create the space for listening and meditation in music

On Reggae Month and how popular reggae is in Jamaica

Reggae Month is significant here. The first time I heard about it I thought “That’s a really good idea” because at that time you needed a Reggae Month. I would agree that reggae is consumed more internationally than in Jamaica. In its truest form – not the North American influenced “Island pop” reggae-esque whatever. Roots music has a space in Jamaica because of Reggae Month. Because while you’ll hear a little reggae on the radio or things they’re trying to call reggae, in Reggae Month it’s the musicians who make the music that you have to feature - roots musicians.

Uprising Roots is being featured a lot which is amazing – finally. Before I met a lot of these youths, Uprising Roots was there. It was me, Uprising Roots and Dubtonic Kru. They were making dub and roots so they inspired a lot of my sound and what I would put my poetry on. Eyes are on Jamaica because of Reggae Month so people who wouldn’t necessarily get an opportunity to shine internationally, can. If you get on a reggae show in February there’s the likelihood that somebody who cares will see it as opposed to just having to hope somebody passes on the music.

On whether "Jamaica is still a dancehall country”.

Right now I would say that is true. But because it is a dancehall country, every step made with roots and reggae music is a step up. We cannot deny it is growing because once it was so dancehall dominant that the figures in the news and the videos and the people talking – wouldn’t be so much consciousness. Now those who come up with the consciousness are even affecting those who are traditionally dancehall. Aidonia is attempting to reinvent himself. We wish him all success in that as well. This is a brother of mine who came up and I didn’t know what he would evolve into.

But it’s dancehall they say because that is who was influencing them. Bounty Killer is the father of a generation of artists. Supercat as well. You need to have a figure like that. Bob Marley and Burning Spear inspired a whole heap of people of their generation because they were the names you would hear. People just want to affiliate with something that is successful and looks like it’s going to work. That’s why you have so many artists per capita in Jamaica. Everyone wants to be a dancehall artist because dancehall artists go upon the road, make money and have a big car. “But now more and more conscious people are on the radio, going around the world – maybe I can do that?” So whatever little influence we are able to rise with we give thanks for because dancehall is dominating right now.

Dancehall can exist because there is a space for it. I could have been singing dancehall with the same conscious vibration. It’s just that dub is a particular spirit sound. When you slow the tempo down and infuse the drum and bass in a particular way it is beyond music. It becomes a real force. Dancehall affects your body. Spirit music affects your mind and your heart. It’s just that we are in a society and world situation now where people want to be distracted. They just want to dance. They don’t want to think. They don’t want to go into their head because they are terrified of the reality that they are living in. So anything you can do to put them in a trance like drugs or give them the highest grade herb that will make them conk out? That’s what they want. I don’t want that. Some of us are OK being in ourselves. We want to grow, to think, to feel. And for those of us like that, that is the place of reggae music.

On going to Africa for the first time in 2013

I didn’t even go as a reggae singer. I went with Rory Stone Love and did poetry on dub. They invited me to come as a poet for an arts festival they had.

I always say, in Jamaica we don’t have to deal with a lot of what North American black and even African black people have to deal with because we don’t have a genre that is constantly over us. We don’t see white people dominating us. We are the faces that we see so our “oppressors” are not around. We were liberated from slavery before North America. We black people in Jamaica have a different confidence than the average person from the African diaspora. Anywhere Jamaicans go they have that confidence but it’s just that we are a little more in charge of our thing here in Jamaica. As much as there is tribal politics I truly believe people are more connected to their power here. There is a force in Jamaica that must be a spiritual thing.

It’s the confidence of Rastafari too. Imagine a set of people who despite the facts saying “You will be beaten and killed”, confidently held and said “This is the truth. This is the reality. We’re not going to eat your food. We’re not going to go to your church. We’re not going to buy into your system and your politics. We’re going to live this way – confidently.” When His Majesty landed in Jamaica they saw Rastafari crawling out of every cave. They had no idea there were so many of us – which is a powerful statement too.

There is no market. Market is just people

So we go to Africa with that confidence “Yeah, Africa our place. When we go they embrace us and ask “What do we do with the system?” and we say “You don’t even see how much power you have? Look at the numbers. Once we shed off some of the illusions that have been placed in our heads then you will have the power”.

I can’t tell them what will happen when they do that. I just know that is where the change starts. His Majesty said it too – African people must solve their own problems. So we have to start looking within, especially on the continent. It is a priority mission for me. A lot of the work I do in the US, Europe and around the world is to build the resources and connections to go into the continent. South America as well which has the largest black population apart from Africa. That’s where the work is needed. We’re not going around telling people “Gather! Let’s go kill!” We’re saying “People, liberate yourself. Free up. Connect. You have the power”.

On the media’s wish that America will validate and be the saviour of Jamaican music

It is sad and pathetic.

On whether it is realistic to expect wholesale endorsement from a culture that considers itself exceptional

So you understand. It is important to go to the US because it’s important that you share the offering. They are right there and there are people who want to hear it. I didn’t go there with “Boy, I hope they like me!” I’m like “I have this mission and unnu who don’t like it don’t come to the show”. I went and talked my patois and was myself and to see them receive myself like that made me say “All of this is illusion. If we put our efforts together we can go and conquer that market too”.

There is no market. Market is just people. I studied marketing science. So when people say “This market doesn’t do this” you can’t tell me about people. The human mind is so dynamic. The capacity to change, evolve and adapt is so vast. I have seen situations in the inner city where people don’t want to hear what I have to say. Some high tension situations. And I persist and I am there with them until they are engaged and right there with me. Because shedding is an emotional process and some people are not ready for it. But that is the work.

The music I am making has to be meaningful or it will not be worth it

It is harder for them to make me compromise because I’m not a hungry man who is looking to “bust” to feed my family. If I never did music I could stay in my yard and be with my family. There is a whole heap of other things I could be doing. So the music I am making has to be meaningful or it will not be worth it. I think the people connected with that in the US because, for everything that they are going through, no matter where we are, people connect with the idea of being yourself. They like to see people who are confidently themselves. It inspires something inside of them.

You have to be yourself because it’s not sustainable to put on a show for people. I’m not going to go put on a minstrel show for America. If they had never accepted it I just probably wouldn’t go back. But there is the demand and the people received it so we say “Give thanks” and we will definitely return.

I never plan what I am going to say – it’s just “These are some things I would like to touch upon” and when you go on stage you feel what the audience is. When I and I stepped out on the stage in Vermont that is a predominantly white community and a lot of the things I generally say on stage are geared towards my brothers and sisters. So I was like “Do I try to change up what I say and try to be politically correct?” But I wasn’t. I just was myself and they got it and they laughed and didn’t take anything personally. It was a sharing. These people were unfamiliar with my music but they were present with me.

I'm not going to go put on a minstrel show for America

Whatever the audience is, whatever genre of people, people connect with the idea of self and looking within. Because it is universal concepts that I am bringing forward people will relate to it no matter where in the world they come from. Not because of how well I’m doing but because of shifting consciousness in the world right now. People don’t want you to try and make them believe anything. They want to connect with some true things. Or they don’t want to hear anything and they just want to dance. But those people who are becoming awake? It takes more than just making them feel the beat. You have to connect with them on a real level and I will do that naturally because that is what somebody has to do with me too.

Jah9 in Paris

On racism

People say “Black people can’t be racist because they have no power”. You’re kidding? Really? I can’t accept that I don’t have any power. There are certain things that happened in history. To acknowledge them is not being racist. And to not acknowledge them is not being racist either. It’s just “How do you deal with the truth? How do you deal with the situations you come upon?”

People say "Black people can't be racist because they have no power". I can't accept that I don't have any power

I’ve never actually experienced blatant racism. I’ve experienced things somebody else might call racism but in my mind that’s just ignorance and fear. People are afraid because this assertive aggressive black lady is on the plane demanding something and they don’t know how to deal with it and avoid you so you’re like “She’s racist!” No, she’s not racist, she’s probably intimidated or she doesn’t understand your culture. Maybe she doesn’t know Jamaican people talk very aggressively. Sometimes people will be sitting down talking and other people think “Why are they fighting?” They’re not fighting – they’re just impassioned about what they’re talking about.

I remember after the New York show I went outside to sign some CDs and a crowd, a drove of people just came down on me. Now these are my people and they all want a CD signed and generally I’ll be firm with discipline so I’d say “Listen, all of you just back off and make a line”. But I just didn’t because I was so tired. I was like “OK, let’s take a picture. Who’s next?” and I was even almost backed up onto a table at one point.

When I went to Vermont there was similar love but I was sitting on a chair and they were all just stood up waiting. Then one person went up, said what they had to say and asked “Can I take a picture?” and then the next one. I was like “Jah know! Wow, why can’t we be more like this? Yes, you’re excited and yes you want to make sure you get your picture but why can’t we be more disciplined?” And things like that have nothing to do with race. It’s not because we are black that we behave like this or because they are white they behave like that. It is just discipline. So we need to foster some more discipline. And maybe if we were less distracted by other things maybe we would have more time to practise discipline.

People don’t have patience. The patience to just sit and listen and wait your turn. I suffer from this as well. We have to have things now. Our generation and the youth especially are not used to waiting. Imagine if when you wanted to listen to a song you had to go find the vinyl for it, put it down, wipe it off, set the thing, when it finishes, flip it over. Or you wanted to listen to a cassette and you had to listen to the whole thing as opposed to the millions of songs that you have? Time is not conducive to patience any more.

I've never actually experienced blatant racism

These are the real issues that we have and it turns into race because of perspective. It’s not about race. People just need to deal with each other better. You will have different challenges than I will have. When you come to Jamaica and the sun is hot and it’s burning down and you have to make sure you have all your sun protection. If you feel brave and go out there and lie down on the beach you will wake up charred! I won’t have that problem. But when I go to Vermont I will have a problem because I will need several more layers than you. These are the real practical things that affect our communities on a physiological level.

There are some issues men don’t have that women do. Women are more likely to go to the doctor when something is wrong with them. Our communities have a high degree of prostate cancer – especially in our African diaspora because the men are not interested because of the way they have to be examined. These are the issues and race is a distraction. I was listening to a woman in DC who was saying that biologically and physiologically on a genetic level we are not very different. Most of the delineations were created in somebody’s mind for some strategic reason and we just perpetuated it ignorantly.

Time to build our communities and ourselves

So bringing race into issues is like laziness. It means you don’t really want to look at the issue. Because if you’re really addressing these issues it’s not about who is black or white. It’s almost like “OK, don’t deal with race. If these people are having an issue with race let’s not address race at all in this meeting and see what happens”.

On yoga and the police force

When I started yoga one of the things I wanted to do was go and work with the police force. Because I was one of those people who was never into the police but when I thought about it, it was mostly because of herb that me and the police never agreed! So I demonised them wholesale. And a lot of times it’s just things like that where you can address the issue. So it’s time I carried yoga into the police force because I think those officers could benefit so much from a centring – even in how they deal with one another.

If you want to know about Rastafari don't look to Rastafari people – look to Haile Selassie I first

These kinds of ideas – this is what I call the feminine. The idea of “I’m not going to go fight no police. I will go talk to them. I really would love sit down with them and see what is really going on when I don’t address the obvious issues and see what else there is". But nobody wants to take that time and it’s time that we need. Time to build our communities and ourselves. When I listen to the interviews over the years with the elders in Rastafari and when I reason with them now it’s not a new thing I talk! Those who are connected with their roots know that. It’s not about colour. Roots is about connection with earth cycle. That is why Rastafari will be a bright light because Rastafari is not about colour. Rastafari is about Haile Selassie I as the example. And if you look at that man you’re not going to wonder where he stands where race and these things are concerned. So if you want to know about Rastafari don’t look to Rastafari people – look to Haile Selassie I first.

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