Album Review: Jah9 - 9
by Gardy Stein
Whether or not you are acquainted with the output of extraordinary Jamaican singer Jah9, here are some suggestions of what to do before listening to her new release. For one, throw any expectations you may have overboard. Then, take a deep, cleansing breath and center yourself. Having freed your mind of any worries or preoccupations, you might, really just might, be ready to press play…
Janine Cunningham aka Jah9 has created a deeply spiritual album that combines her interpretation of Reggae, instrumental experimentation and sung poetry with the scientific mysticism revolving around the number nine. Not only is this cipher the title of the album, it also sets the release date as well as the number of tracks included. Says the artist in her recent interview with Angus Taylor: "Nine is the number of change, because after nine it starts all over and a new cycle begins. (…) This record is 9 for all that 9 means. For all that I am as well."
And she made sure that the album is a true reflection of who she is. Even though it is released under the prestigious VP Records, Jah9 insisted on the freedom to have her say in the whole production process. Thus, five of the tracks are completely self-produced by her, resulting in calm, lyrical gems such as Prosper and Baptized or a bit more up-tempo pieces such as Hardcore or In The Midst. Her at times very unconventional ideas of complex and audacious melody lines were perfectly captured by musicians such as Sheldon Bernard (flute), Aeion Hoilett (bass), Jalanzo (from Dubtonic Kru), Wayne "Unga" Thompson and Earl "Chinna" Smith, lending a kind of jazzy touch to the tracks. This is especially evident in Natural Vibes, a beautifully innovative love-song that also makes Jah9's considerable vocal range obvious: from operatic heights to soulful alto she easily moves between these tonal extremes, making it an instant highlight.
The remaining four songs developed in close collaboration with diverse producers. Belgium's Puraman Bregt, for instance, an intense cooperation that resulted in the opening track Humble Mi, a fully orchestrated song that displays an immense richness of diverse chords, voices and instruments. Or Kevin Campbell (son of legendary veteran Al Campbell), who is responsible for the meditative In The Spirit that has a duration of exactly – have a guess – 9 minutes. Another Jamaican producer, Franklyn "Ben Up" Irving, provided the Gladiators riddim that serves as the battle ground for the probably most revolutionary song of the release, Unafraid. Jah9 courageously addresses the subject of child abuse, announcing warfare on everyone who dares to touch or molest a little one. "The future is dependent on the youths weh we a build!"
Laurent "Tippy" Alfred from St. Croix created the soundtrack for the only feature of the release, Greatest Threat To The Status Quo, on which compatriot Vaughn "Akae Beka" Benjamin joins Jah9 in a celebration of the universal feminine. "In this track we're talking about the system we've outlined and the things that need to change (…) without resorting to guns and violence (…). Approach it with love, with honesty and with the truth that will disturb and break all bonds."
9 is an album that requires quite a lot from the listener, so don't think of it as an easy-peasy leisure-time companion. For those who are ready to plunge into its depths, however, it is a rewarding journey of inner reflection and rebellious wisdom: "(…) knowing is not the journey, because you will always have to know more. The journey is peace, love and balancing the energies within." (Jah9)
Jah9 - 9
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD / VINYL [VP Records]
Release date: 09/09/2016
1. Humble Mi
5. In The Spirit
6. In The Midst
7. Natural Vibe
9. Greatest Threat To The Status Quo feat. Vaughn "Akae Beka" Benjamin
A1. Humble Mi
A5. In The Spirit
B1. In The Midst
B2. Natural Vibe
B4. Greatest Threat To The Status Quo feat. Vaughn "Akae Beka" Benjamin