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Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Jah9 in Kingston (Part 1)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

"We are trying to revive that feminine essence within everyone"


"A mango may fall" warns Jah9 as we sit under the large tree in her beautiful tropical front garden. "This one looks nice" she laughs as she spies one that fell earlier and takes it in. Hummingbirds flit briefly into view and disappear.

Jah9 returns and is seated. She's been back two days since her US tour. She has a bad cold which struck prior to her visit to the frozen States, a circumstance she attributes to getting the Chikungunya virus the previous year. (“It’s completely debilitating. I think it’s going to be years before it’s completely out of our system. It has compromised our immunity totally.”)

Her eyes and nose are raw and streaming - exacerbated by the pollen from the flowers. Despite this, she still speaks with an unstoppable vitality. When she gestures excitedly she spills her tea.

And there is something else about her: a subtle shift since our last interview where she told the story of her genesis and her album with Rory Stone Love, New Name. She is more humorous in her manner and less forceful in her diction. The main topic she wants to discuss is the discovery of an increasingly feminine energy – and its impact on her life of late.


On her US tour

That was really positive. Surprisingly positive because there are so many other things going on in the US right now. There is the political climate and the social climate in terms of what’s going on with the people and the police. Then the media is trying to brainwash them about what is going on, what’s happening in the war and Israel and all of this. So it makes it hard to break through, especially with a conscious message. It can seem airy fairy. You don’t know how they are going to react to having to kind of force their way through into it.

The US is a huge market. It’s the market where you think “OK, they’re going to take about ten years to catch up to reggae music”. There were some venues where they were familiar with the music and some venues where I didn’t know anyone. It was just a sea of white people up in the snow! But the reception was consistently very strong which was very encouraging. They really connected with the message. It wasn’t like “Oh my gosh, I’m such a big fan!” It was like “This is important work – keep at it”.

On the cold weather

The adjustment was very difficult. In Vermont, I was so intimidated by the snow. I saw falling snow for the first time and I was feeling that tightness in my chest and I thought “I wonder if I’m going to be able to sing tonight”. I remember being in the hotel room saying “I wonder if they’re going to have this show!” It worked out but the cold was a formidable challenge.

On St Croix, the last stop on her tour

It was an all-female show – Omega Vibrations. I have a good relationship with Tippy from I Grade records. He organises that show and that connection means you are directly connected to the Rastafari community because he is the producer that works with Midnite.

St Croix has a very rich Rastafari community. Very serious people. I was there for five days so I had a lot of time to connect and meet some of the ones. They are such royal and humble people. By show time there was an anticipation because I was connecting with the yoga community, the Rastafari community and the Wellness community. Everyone came to the show and I stood on the very small stage and the sound wasn’t perfect but the vibration was so strong.

When music opened its doors I surrendered

The other empresses on the show – Mada Nile and Reemah – carry such a dominant presence but when you meet them they are so warm and open. To see them in their own element, strong and working the crowd, young women knowing and understanding their space on a stage was really powerful.

At the same time you don’t know how they will react to your type of music. The Virgin Islands has a particular style. All the women have that energy like Dezarie – extremely intense. So because I’ve added songs like Avocado and Brothers to my set it’s forced me to be playful and feminine on the stage which is different from the more aggressive push that I used to have and these ladies have. So it was a nice little mix and a really strong offering and even today I’m getting a consistent positive response. I’m sure I’ll be back in St Croix soon.

On future recordings with I Grade and Zion High Productions

I didn’t do any recording because I was still recovering from the cold but I definitely plan to record with Tippy and Jah David from Zion High Productions. He played bass with the Zion I Kings band. He is that kind of musician who right up until the last moment in the last song in rehearsals is there, present and enjoying it. It’s not “OK, we’re almost done now” he has that energy throughout. And the music he’s making is otherworldly. I had never met him before but when he played the song I was like “Where did he go to come up with that?” It’s a nyabinghi meets roots and it should be irie.

On the importance of caring for her hair

A very inspiring thing happened before the first show in North Carolina. I got to stay there the longest because that’s where I rehearsed. I went to the first rehearsal and met the ones and they were just getting to know the music but I was looking around the space we were rehearsing in. It was a really beautiful space – small, wooden floors and they had nice products for hair and skin so I realised “Wait – this is a salon”.

The lady who owns the salon, her brethren was playing bass in the band so she came in and her energy was so light! I didn’t expect such a serious Rastafari community in North Carolina. My father went to school there for his post graduate work and the stories he would tell me meant I wasn’t really going there to expect a lot of black power. But it was amazing to meet her. Locklife Oasis was the name of her space and she started working with my hair. She makes food for your hair.

She said some profound things and spent some time in my hair doing “a detox”. We spent time talking about Rastafari in general, how we treat our hair and how some people have had locks for a very long time but they are very short because the cycle of damage and growth is out of balance so there is more damage than growth. That conversation affected me because it’s true on so many levels. With a thing like your hair people are like “I’m going to leave it alone” but you still need care. That’s kind of the feminine approach to life so she really inspired me in that way.

On the importance of being feminine

Jah9When I mention the term femininity it isn’t even about my artistry. It’s about my responsibility. There are male artists who can display this as well so it’s not about gender – it is about essence. I know some male artists who are so open and humble - so willing to surrender to a process and not puffed up about who does what.

I worked with Patrice from Germany recently and the brethren is so humble and open to the creative process. I see that as nurturing the music in a feminine way where you are not trying to “do to it”, you are watching it unfold.

Things like that are what I consider feminine. How we deal with life. I mention it a lot because we are trying to revive that feminine essence within everyone. It’s not about being a woman but about the kind of energy we need right now in our state of consciousness. To be less aggressive and more soft. Let soft conquer hard more.

What is happening in the US right now, the social climate I mentioned, people are addressing this situation in a masculine patriarchal way. “They are aggressing against us so we are going to aggress harder against them”. That is not the feminine. The feminine is to pull our community together and work on each other. It is not to randomly gather and form a chaotic riot mob – it is to heal, nurture and build the community so we have less people from outside attacking us because we are stronger.

But we are not working to build communities. We are not working on the family and the community and that kind of space. That is the absence of the feminine. More so than dressing up, wearing skirts and makeup and shaving your legs and all that. That’s not feminine. Feminine has to do with that essence – that balance, the Yin.

On why being feminine is not the same as being nice or suppressing your anger about inequality

I have never been accused of being nice. Being feminine for me sometimes means I am the one who is not going to be nice. Because I am not trying to pretend here. I see a need for something and I think it needs to be handled. And because I am woman I can come to you and be firm with you because afterwards I can hug you. I have the liberty to do that. That is the nurturing used in a real way. It is the choices I will make. Instead of fighting with you – I will choose to listen to you.

A lot of it how this movement grew is because of the embracing of the feminine. If you look at the 70s and how this energy originally started – women were in the background. Background singers or somebody’s wife or girlfriend. I have never been in that situation. I have never had to compromise my integrity to get anywhere in this music industry. So it’s not a pushing and a forcing through. It has all been kind of a pull factor. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. I didn’t force my way into corporate either. I didn’t leave because “Grrr – I was against the system”. I left because I didn’t feel that was what I was supposed to be doing and when music opened its doors I surrendered.

Nurturing is what helps a movement to build and grow

Meeting the other youths over the years I have always cradled the people that I love and want to introduce them all to each other. That kind of nurturing is what helps a movement to build and grow. Back in the days I’m sure there were a lot of women who were responsible for the amazing connections but they had no voice and no power so they had no name and you would never know. So there was this great thing that happened and there was no woman involved? That’s impossible! You probably just didn’t hear about her.

On how much has changed since the days of the 1970s female cultural reggae artists in Jamaica like Senya (who’s Children of the Ghetto Jah9’s producer Rory used for his Midnight rhythm).

There wasn’t a space for the feminine before. It was something that was feared and suppressed. People didn’t even understand medicine to a certain level in the west so over time they have learned more about the human anatomy and women. Certain barriers are being broken, more conversation is happening and legislation has less to do with the male reality. Women have an equal opportunity so to speak. As those created barriers are removed you start to see women coming into their morning because they aren’t literally being held down by the system. They are now being held down by their own minds and what they choose to accept. Those women who choose to liberate themselves from all that have a space to really be themselves.

I’ve found Rastafari very liberating because it meant I could be myself. I didn’t have to do any particular primping I didn’t want to do. If I didn’t want to shave my legs for weeks I didn’t have to. I was like “Rasta women don’t have to do that? Look at how liberated they are!” But if you talk to other people they are like “Boy, Rasta women are so oppressed because of how their men treat them” – it’s perspective and also what a woman is willing to accept. We forget how much power we have because we are so distracted.

I remember talking to an elder sistren who worked with the health services in Africa and when she talked about some of the deplorable things that happened she moved me to tears. This is what she was dealing with all the time – what’s being perpetrated against women over there. That’s not in the media. They’ll talk about issues between tribes and disease and which government wants to get whatever from the people but they’re not talking about simple things like how the community’s relating and how the men are treating the women. I asked her “How do you think we can change this?” and she said “The mothers have to teach their sons.” The mothers who are breastfeeding these boys have to break the cycle because the mothers have that persecution complex in their heads and train the boys to disrespect them. If there is going to be any change it has to happen from that place – from infancy.

On why she is not a feminist

I am not a feminist at all. This is not an “ist” or an “ism”. This is an essence. I’ve never really studied feminism but from what I’ve heard – it feels very angry. It also feels very reactive. It feels like “Since you’re going to do that – I’m going to do this” as opposed to “Hmmm…what do I feel like doing?” So there is the feminist who will say “Because the man is doing that I want to do that too. I can do anything he can do” or “We are equal and there’s no difference so you’re oppressing me by thinking that”. I don’t participate in that line of thought at all. If I am woman I am designed a particular way because I am to be treated a particular way. I fully believe women are sacred creatures – separate from that fact that we are human beings. The work we have to do – a lot of it is subtle. The energy we have to expend is more subtle energy – it’s not brute force labour.

I am not a feminist at all

I wouldn’t be considered a feminist because the idea of being home taking care of and educating the youths is something that’s extremely exciting to me. I like the idea that a few days out of every month I can just not speak with anybody and lock myself away. I love that I have that opportunity. When I was in corporate Jamaica and you had to go to work regardless I was like “This is not fair – they should have days where women get to stay home. Look, you’re not going to bear any children! I want to connect with my cycle and go outside and be under the moon and scream.”

I think embracing your feminine might be a different thing from feminist. Every time a new “ist” is formed it’s like a new religion. It has dogma and doctrine and “Oh you did that – you’re not a feminist anymore!” It’s like being vegan now. It’s like a church. Somebody can write you out. No. Being feminine is observing the feminine. It’s saying “Who are the women of note in my history?” I am a black woman so I look at the queens who have come up through history and the role they’ve played.

Empress Menen is the ultimate example of the feminine to I. I read her biography recently and realised there are a lot of things people don’t even know about this lady. She was older than His Majesty. She was married before. She had children before. And when he met her he chose her still and stayed with that one woman his entire life. Just imagine what it would do for a woman to be loved and held sacred by one man. A lot of times because our society isn’t built like that women say “I don’t need to have just one. I want more”. And a lot of times I feel like “Boy, it’s really just hurt and compromise that causes us to reach this place”. Because naturally women want nurturing. That same thing that they give – they want and need. Nature has put us in a place where we desire these things and to suppress them is un-female. It is not feminine to supress your feminine. No, we are not that force. We have to embrace the softness and the nurturing and if we are not comfortable with it we have to find a way to be comfortable. Otherwise the cycle will continue and the change cannot happen.

On the most interesting thing she’s read recently

Recently what I am reading on and off is the Master Key by L W de Laurence. That book is amazing for every black human being – every human being actually. I said black because right now there is a state within the community where the people are not connecting with their power. The other races – I like to call them genres! – are fine in that they understand they have power because they are familiar with the system. Black people are not so familiar so when you hit them with something unfamiliar with they become defensive and aggressive.

You don't need to learn how to manipulate people. You just need to learn how to manipulate your own mind

The Master Key doesn’t just teach you that “You have the power” and motivational speech – it is a practical book. It teaches you exercises on how to train your brain and thought process. How to use your thoughts to manifest things. How to connect to the power of your will and drive your life so you don’t see yourself as needing somebody outside to give you something. It’s understanding that we live in a universe where you can create things with just your thoughts. Now that might sound airy fairy but that is why I say everybody needs to get that book and understand. They are reading books like the 48 Laws of Power. You don’t need to learn how to manipulate people. You just need to learn how to manipulate your own mind.

On how change starts within

I think the idea of the The System or The Man are just ways to take responsibility away from yourself. Sometimes when things aren’t going so well, forces outside of yourself are making it worse. But at the end of the day change has to happen in your own mind first. It’s like the grieving process. It takes acceptance. If you’ve lost something – it might be a freedom or it might be a person – you grieve for it and anger comes but acceptance must come for you to change. The system has to change? Well you aren’t going to change it so how about you change yourself? How about you work on some of your bad habits?

When I was in South Africa they asked me about that a lot. I understand on the continent it must be extremely difficult for a one to feel their own power when you know the wealth of your nation and you have no access to it. That is an extremely debilitating crippling thing. But only after an individual level can we look at a collective level, because we have to work on ourselves before we can face our community too.

You have to be real with people. It’s being real with yourself so you can be real within your community and strengthen your community. When a community is strong then you have collective power. So you start to train the system that they can’t deal with us that way. We’ll never get to exercise that principle until we actually start doing that work. And there are ones who are doing that work. I see that work manifest in Jamaica and the difference between those who are against something versus those who are for something. Those who have been infected with ideas of poverty and oppression are debilitated by them. Those who are for something are making things happen. It is in the mind. It is the mind-set.


On yoga

Yoga has affected my ideas of community too. I am probably closer to the yoga community in Jamaica than I am to the music community. If you find your practice is falling off you get involved with a session so you’ll be driven by your community. Having someone beside you pushing themselves, passing their plateaus every day encourages you. It’s not a competitive thing because you literally can’t go beyond where your body says you can go. But at the same time you inspire other people and be inspired by the people who are consistent with it. And it’s very forgiving so the flexibility you are building means you will reach a place and if you don’t practise for a month then go back you will hit that place so it will encourage you.

Even in the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the first principle of that Ashtanga Eight Limbed process is “work on self” and the next step is “work on the community”. Before you even reach asana, which is posture, you have to work on yourself and being in the community because those things are required. When you do reach asana you have reached a point where you already have some discipline. You have to understand discipline and sacrifice. And pain and the relationship with pain. I have to bring back the feminine again. Pain has been a constant in my life – not because of injury but because I am female. I have had to develop a relationship with pain where I am not trying to subdue it every time it comes. I’m trying to embrace it and say “Ok, what does it mean? This feels more painful than the last time? Why?” I am learning about my body and we have the advantage of connecting with our internal environment because we are blessed with a cycle that is connected with the earth and the moon.

This is another reason why we need to embrace our feminine. We need to get in touch with those cycles because something is happening in our environment but we are so distracted that we don’t notice. “Why is it that the birds are not coming into this area anymore?” Or “Why is this winter so cold? Oh well, I wonder what’s on Facebook?” As women it’s easier to connect with that idea of “Pay attention to the cycles”. It’s not preaching it’s just reality. In indigenous cultures everybody knew this but we are so removed from real things and caught up in the illusion that we think social media is a real force. Yes, it is a marketing force but there are way more powerful tools that we have in terms of building our human community.

On the resistance to yoga in Jamaica among Christian and Rastafari communities

Oh yes, I have had some very stern emails about how I am Rastafari and Rastafari has its history in the Orthodox faith which doesn’t promote such and such and the Bible says such and such. One of the things that liberated me is learning that His Imperial Majesty practised yoga. Leonard Howell practised yoga. These people who are the pillars of the Rastafari faith. That means yoga is a good thing. Understanding and connecting your breath with your movement is a good thing. All the principles His Majesty would support in our community.

His Imperial Majesty practised yoga. Leonard Howell practised yoga

I see the link between yoga and Rastafari so clearly. In this time Rastafari needs to be bringing forward yoga. It’s Rastafari that needs embrace it the most right now. I think that will be an amazing transformational healing tool for us. Inner city youths need to be on this yoga thing. That is a big part of my mission with yoga. When I trained that was where my mind was at. It wasn’t “I’m going to be a premium yoga teacher”. It was “I’m going to bring yoga to ghetto people and give people access to yoga who never had it before. I’m going to infuse yoga into my music activities so people come to see music get yoga even if they never wanted it”. This is the way I see yoga working in its true sense which is liberating people. Yoga is not a fitness thing. Yoga is a wellness thing.

On the resistance to the idea of Hindu influence in Rastafari. (Helene Lee’s book about Leonard Howell The First Rasta sparked controversy on this topic)

There is resistance but I think people are more open now because there is more access to information. Recently an audio book came out called Wings To Freedom [by Yogiraj Gurunath]. He has a chapter where he speaks about meeting Haile Selassie in 1984 which is years after they said he was dead. It speaks about His Majesty having problems sleeping and wanting to do breath work and wanting some secrets which would help him sleep better. He wanted to do a fire ceremony. When I heard that I immediately thought “Yes, it’s true. I believe that. It must be”. I didn’t accept it when they said His Majesty was dead. I believe that essence is going to be consistent with us throughout time. So I made sure I reposted it to get some feel from the ones. I realised people are more open now. Even people who are rigid. More people express an openness and a curiosity. You have more of that now.

I don't see Rastafari as religion. I see Rastafari as a mind-set

There are still people who are rigid. It’s more the Orthodox people who I have found to be the most rigid because they are the most religious of all Rastafari people. I don’t see Rastafari as religion. I see Rastafari as a mind-set. Which means it will have connections with Hinduism and connections with Buddhism. It will have connections with any other philosophy that advocates connection with self. It will not resound with people who need a saviour outside of themselves. They will turn it into religion and make Haile Selassie something outside of self that rules over them as opposed to seeing that space Haile Selassie occupies as a space they themselves can evolve to. He is to be an example. We can get into the philosophy of it and that debate but really and truly I think accepting the principles from other traditions – yoga in particular – is important for us to do as Rastafari. He was a diplomat. He went through the world and met with all people of all races, creeds and religions and was accepted because of his diplomacy. Which means that we ourselves have to find that space to be diplomatic as well.

Read part two of this interview with Jah9 here.

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Read comments (1)

Posted by Godiva on 05.27.2015
Beautiful interview from a beautiful mind. We must all make this journey of self-discovery and Jah9 is a light guiding others on that path. Bless Sister!

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