This fearless vocalist has taken the power of her platform to an amazing level. Her second album 9, released on September 9, 2016 (2+0+1+6=9) represents a quantum leap forward and our forward-thinking conversation will have you quantum leaping as well. “For a woman's voice to be heard, it has to be extreme. Powerful words, said by this singer songwriter ring throughout her new album and the course of our inspiring chat. If there was ever a time to use your platform for the benefit of the unheard-voices, now would be the time and Jah9 is doing just that. Take a look at how her unwavering creative journey led her to having the #2 Album on Billboard’s 10 best Reggae albums of 2016!
Mm: I am really excited to sit and get to talk to you and finally meet you. There is such a force about you. As I got to learn about you, I discovered you have been writing since you were 6 years old and you have managed to develop that into a career. How do you go from writing at 6 and knowing you have this gift, to living it out as your full time career now?
Jah9: You know its always in retrospect that you look back and say, oh look since I was 6 years old, I must have known but not at all. It was just venting for me. I started reading when I was very young— at about 3 years old. Then the books around me were my parents books more than even children's books. I would read books on social work and theology those are the things that I was exposed to, my father being a pastor. The content that would fill my mind would be of that nature. I was the youngest one of my family as well, much younger, I am 5 years younger than my sister and 9 years younger than my brother. Both of my parents were very-very involved in community and social work and the church so that left a lot of time for me to sit with my own mind and writing was a good way to vent for me. I didn't even write with the intentions to keep it and hold it, it was just to vent.
Mm: Do you remember what you would write about at that time?
Jah9: Ooh, I remember my first poems, when I started learning about limericks. When I was reading the bible and reading hymns. I would start to write in that way and then I started to learn about limericks. I remember the first one I wrote was my life was a shoe being on the shelf. I wrote three versus about that — I don’t remember exactly how it went but it was just whatever I could connect to in that moment. That is kind of how it went for years, right up until high school I was writing everyday. Every hurricane that would come, I would lose work— I would lose some volumes. My mom would try and save as much as she could. I remember when I got in trouble at school for almost fighting, I didn't even fight and I got in trouble. Me and the sister who I was in a fight with, we worked it out before it even got to fighting but I still got in trouble and was so upset. I thought it was the greatest injustice. When I went to my moms office and I wasn't able to talk to her because she was busy. I just wrote this really intense three page, like three page worth of intensity. That’s kind of how it goes, when something affects you— you write. That has always been the case with me. I have always been singing as well in every choir. I really love sound. I learned all the parts from the lowest to the highest harmony memorized it. I never learned an instrument but I can sight read and feel my way around the instruments but it was really more the vocals from it. Those two things were happening parallel but I wasn’t writing songs or singing my music. There was the choir where, I worked on my voice then there’s the writing that happened…. which is something personal.
Mm: When did the connection merge?
Jah9: It started to happen more in high school where I started to share more of my work. Then in University is when I really started to share my poetry. We did a poetry society of Jamaica. There was an outlet now or people who wrote and every week you could go read something new. I found a real home in that environment. I didn't read right away but I found a space where I could hear other peoples passion and thought maybe I should share too. I started sharing and the response was really overwhelming and that made me think, hey people actually like this stuff too. When I was settled into University, I started listening more to like roots and instrumental dub. That is really when everything changed. I got invited to go up into the mountains where they have a dub session with big speakers. Gabri Selassi a rastaman who plays song up there, in his home, transformed into what is now known as the Kingston dub club. But back in those days it was just his house. He had some big speakers outside. I didn't even know who he was but a friend of mine brought me there and I remember leaning up on the backs and just hearing the drum and base beat through me. It was transporting and words just started to flow because it wasn’t very-very heavily musical, it was dubs. Just the baseline and a little bit of drum and the piano would ring out by itself so there was a lot of open space for me to put words in. That’s when it started for me. I started to experiment with writing my own stuff and putting some of my poetry to this music and I really loved it. I started sharing a little bit more and more and I saw the response and felt —yo, I can do this! So, I did. I was still in University and then you know you have have to pay off your student loans and you have to go and do corporate work. You just cant tell your parents right away… what you really want to do— you know what I mean?
Mm: Oh yea, you have Jamaican parents, I have African parents I get it! Haha
Jah9: Haha….I never really had any aspirations of being an artist, I just loved to create. Then when I went into corporate for a little while, I got good jobs. I got to see different sides of Jamaica. I got to work with the private sector and the public sector. I got to meet some very wealthy people, I got to meet some very poor people and some awesome creative people as well. But then, I knew it wasn’t for me. I never really felt connected to that kind of life. So I retired.
Mm: How old where you when you retired?
Jah9: I was 25 when I retired. That was always the plan too. Like I knew, I’m going to retire when I am 25. I just knew!
Mm: It’s not often that people stick to their plan. We get comfortable and become settled. Was it uncomfortable for you when you made that leap or where you like, no I am doing it?
Jah9: I always got good jobs, yet I didn't stay anywhere for more than a year. Just because I didn't want to get attached to anywhere. Even when they asked me to stay, I would say no! I started looking for a job as the year started approaching. So that I could test out different fields. I worked in tele-comp, I worked in insurance, marketing, communications. The last place I stayed I went from HR to marketing executive and they wanted to give me more. I was like no, I don’t want to stay. I am going to go an sing you know. They were like, you are going to leave this job to be a singer? How are you going to eat— are you serious? I left and nobody knew who I was. I got a chance to find out who I was and strip away the security of a 9-5. I really explored who I am and dealt with the fear and insecurity and came up alive.
Mm: How has that played into your work now?
Jah9: That has played a huge rule. It has given me a great confidence and at that time it gave me some time to do some social work that I wanted to do to. So, I helped started a non-profit organization in Jamaica that based on arts and music. Because of my corporate training I was able to help build the administrative side of that and the advocacy side of that. As well as inspire some of the young people there that you don’t have to work for people to make a living.
Mm: It’s all about calculated risks right?
Jah9: Exactly, exactly because I certainly calculated. I thought I did at least, because I thought I have enough money stored for like two years. But two years has passed and all that money is finished but I have a really supportive family. They believe in me and they always have and that made a huge difference just in my life growing up you know. I grew up with parents who, if I said to them, you know, I want to try this— they would let me. That….I think is so crucial for people to just encourage their youth. Trust the youth!
Mm: I had a conversation with some friends at dinner last night about that exact topic of the advantages of being supported within your craft. How that plays out with having foreign parents it can go either way. At times its just this thing in you that you have to trust and follow even when they don’t understand. That was the case when I came to New York with just my 5 suitcases. I am always intrigued when people have the support and they are able to launch from that.
Jah9: That’s not always to our advantage you know. Sometimes you need a little bit of struggle. It depends on your personality too and I really think that the universe conspires for us. So if you personality is such that you need that push then your life will give you what you need. Maybe if you have support you wouldn't push so hard. For me, I was always concentrated, if they didn't support me they were going to lose me— I think that’s it.
Mm: I love what you said in an interview, I think it was with MAC when you said, “For a woman's voice to be heard, it has to be extreme. Who are the extreme voices that have played a role in your world?
Jah9: My mother is an extreme voice, she’s extreme to me. The women around me, Jamaican women are fierce. Even when they are wrong, they are wrong and strong and so I grew up around really powerful women who just didn't take no chuck from nobody. It was really inspiring for me and I don't know any other way for a woman to be. When I look around now and I look in the world and the situation that women face. They are so downtrodden and that makes me so much more inspired to say come on go and serve your sisters. By serving your sisters you are serving the world. It’s the sisters that are reaching out and saying to me yo- daughter you're giving me so much courage and strength during a really serious time. So I have started to not run from that and just embrace that like yo, my sisters need me. A lot of times you don’t want to make yourself seem like oh you’re partial to women because the industry says so. And, you know what— I am past that. If it is my sisters that need me then thats good.
Mm: How did you get past that? I feel like our society places people in certain categories like oh you only focus on this demographic— or you just speak to this.
Jah9: Probably because I don’t really listen much to the voices outside of my head. I have a very highly-cultivated internal environment. I don’t really watch the news much. I don’t really know much about whats going on in the industry — like reggae music or any industry. I relate to the music industry from the studio or from the stage and from my pen and paper. I don’t know how long I am going to be able to keep that up. Yet when you really do what you are passionate about as I said that law of attraction supports you. I think because, I don’t let it in too much, it doesn't have the chance to affect me—because I would be affected if I let it in. I am a really sensitive person — so I just block it out unapologetically. I will not fear it— I will not hear the descending voices because, I am sure. Even when nobody else around me is sure, I am so sure. I think that’s something I got from my father too because ever since I was young, he just believed in me to the point of I have to be responsible for myself because I can’t let him down. I can’t let him down because of how much he has invested in— if I say this is what we should do — he will be like, alright do it. And then you’re like uhhh… I have to go do it. It’s an interesting mix of situation + environment. This is where I am though.
Mm: How has your second album 9 coming out shaped your creativity?
Jah9: I think this album more than even my first album will show more of my personal journey. As a human being, as a women. I’d like to say as a black women too but I don’t have any other exploits. I don’t have to say as a black woman because when I see my white sisters and all other the other women from other nations they deal with the same things The same issues we are dealing with as women. When you see some of the these things even the violence here in the U.S. against people of color. These issues pull people apart and especially women.
Mm: Is it because we are focusing on the wrong thing?
Jah9: I think so, and I think— rather than negative reinforcement we need positive reinforcement. Like what are we doing? Are we supporting each other economically? Are we buying from those that need it. We are saying these people matter but are we supporting them really— or is it just your protest? Are you feeding yourself in a way that is true to your voice? I just want to elevate the conversations and thats what I am doing with this record. So the issues that I am touching on this record, some of them might be a little uncomfortable too. Talking about violence against women and children. Sexual abuse— and how they sexualize our children too young. Little girls as soon as they start getting a little breast and a little bottom they become targets for predators and in the community we don’t talk about it.
Mm: I feel like we are talking about it even less. The more things are going we are being clouded by the topics that truly matter.
Jah9: Yes, and that’s what I am saying. We have to shut off those media voices and really focus on whats happening in our community. There are predators right where you live and we can’t be afraid to talk about it. It’s just wanting to have those conversations and wanting people to connect with that indigenous part of themselves as well. To connect with ritual create their own rituals. Not just religion that they have given you— but what is your religion? What is you personal ritual that you use to keep your sanity and peace at this time. Peace is more important than wealth. Those are just some of the things I go into with this record, so I’m really excited to share it and see who connects with it.
Mm: Speaking of connecting with it, you said the universe conspires in our favor. How would you — if you could say, I want this world to be better like this— how would you like to see people connect around molestation issues and really elevate from it? What would you like the end result to look like?
Jah9: I talk about some of that in some of the music. What I would hope to happen, its not even a social media campaign. It’s more like face-to-face conversations within your community so that people would be inspired not to come and hear me sing so much. But to go out and talk with others in their community and sit. I talk about sister-circles and tribal codes because I want the youth to sit and reason together. I would love to see when they find theses predators if one woman alone went to confront them that is a dangerous thing but 10 women or 12 women or two dozen women standing outside of that house of a predator saying let that little girl out— that is a different thing. Standing together for your community is everything. That is what I am encouraging and that is what I want to hear. It’s breaking certain cycles, its talking to young mothers about how to feed their youth how to cultivate their youth. That is some of the work and there is no pill to take. It’s going to take time but it has to start where the message is simple enough for the youth so that they understand. Then when they do, hopefully they will pass some positive tips early. Also through the yoga and breathing you want to ensure to people that there is another way to deal with your issues and your anxiety. To not just say that but to show them!
Mm: Your vulnerability is your strength, I believe.
Jah9: Yes, I agree. Especially as women. It’s only considered vulnerability because of this world that we live in and this world is an illusion. All that matters is how you are connecting with yourself.
Mm: Amen to that, this was wonderful. I can’t wait to have another opportunity to go even deeper.
Jah9: Thank you so much!
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