Interview with Jah9 [Part II]
09/05/2016 by Angus Taylor
In PART II of our exclusive interview with Jah9, we continue exploring her forthcoming album 9 and find out about her inner hopes and fears…
So let's talk about Hardcore which is a track with kit drums and horns on it. If we were to be very superficial about it, it is kind of a connection back to the previous album.
Hardcore is a roots song that is not what you'd expect from a song named Hardcore. It’s not necessarily the definition of Hardcore that you would think of when you think of Jamaican music either. But remember we are talking about evolution so "What is the evolution of a term like hard-core?" In this life. Not in the old life when we were depending on religion and politics to help. In this evolved world where people are going to take responsibility for their life and be their own government in this world that we are creating? Hardcore has a new meaning. In how we assess masculinity, how we assess the journey of woman and what it will take to survive.
Things like permaculture. Things like understanding the cycles and the winter plans and how to eat and how to organise the dissemination of water. It's not so much about muscle and brawn anymore. It's moral wisdom. This is a different kind of world we're living in and that is why it culminates with the speech because in it we are saying "Selassie alone can make their hearts sure." It’s the same thing I did with New Name where whenever I speak of The King I like to put it in context so it's not just “Rastafari Jah” it is understanding who trod flesh as his Imperial Majesty. What kind of spirit? What is the message that he left? What are the instructions? What is the guidance?
The speech of his at the end of the song was a speech he made to the United Nations. That's the same speech that contains the quotes that Bob Marley used for War. The closing arguments that His Majesty put to the world to say that it is a different set of challenges we're going to face. The young people today are not preparing for the past, they are preparing for the future. And they are going to need to put aside those things that haven't served us in the past to take on this challenge that is ahead if we're going to make it out of this thing.
I knew I wanted to use a speech of His Majesty on it and I knew I wanted that speech but I didn't know where through the whole process of creating the record. It was at the very end that I remembered that this is where I wanted to put that speech and have that included. So it kind of brings it all together - that Hardcore is what Haile Selassie represents. The idea that a man is going to take on the challenge of being Christ and representing that and take on a Dynasty and the legacy like that and say "Yes this is me. I am trodding. I am the Lion of Judah that was spoken of in the Bible." So all eyes are on him to live an exemplary life and to leave the legacy that he did, with a track record that he did, and leave the speeches that he did. One man with one woman he took for the entirety of his life and he built a nation with her. That is Hardcore.
What would you say are the unprecedented problems that we face today?
A lot of the unprecedented problems are environmental. In the past 50 years the things that have crept into what we call our diet that were not even created before in history, in life. They are not natural, they are fabricated. And so our bodies have to be dealing with things that they were not designed so to deal with. We have diseases that did not exist before. Things that are really challenging the threshold of human immunity.
We face our technology advancing, because of the mind-set of man, we face nuclear devastation. Because a man now has the power to go within the atom and find infinite sources of energy. We are using some of these things to create free energy for the world but we are also using it to perpetrate war. This is another thing that His Majesty talked about. That if we had spent the time, effort and energy on creating things to help us with building the world, ending hunger, we would not be in the situation now. Because this technology exists. It’s just where people’s concentration is on.
So these are some of the unprecedented challenges. We can affect the planet with the power that man has attained through technology. Man used to have these powers within themselves before. We see evidence of that in Kemet but that came through spiritual cultivation. Now when man has access to it because they can buy these things, because they can use their power, there is no accountability. There is no spiritual accountability. There is no moral standard that is holding anybody to anything. It is just dog eat dog.
So that's just a really dangerous mix of things. And I think that is what The King was alluding to. Remember he had addressed the United States, so to speak, of Africa before. He united them in a meeting before. So when he was talking to the UN he was talking basically as The King of Africa. He was speaking as the voice of the people of the continent. Of the leaders of the continent in unity, saying this is what we are saying as people who are feeling it.
You've talked about Unafraid in terms of the concept and the inspiration for the lyrics. But musically it's on a wicked Gladiators rhythm produced by Franklyn Ben Up Irving.
Yes! If you remember Steamers A Bubble - it is the same producer for this track. Ben Up is the producer for the original rhythm and he put another song on it by Micah Shemaiah. Ben Up is starting to revive some of those rhythms that he's had for a long time. Steamers A Bubble, did pretty well so in releasing this one, he gave me the opportunity to go on it. He sent me a few of them but this rhythm stood out to me for sure. And then when I told him this was the one I wanted to use he let me know that "Micah is on it and you know Micah has a really strong song on it too. A ganja song.”
I had a different vibration towards it though. I didn't even let him hear the song until we were in the studio. The first time he heard it was when I was doing the first take. He was a little apprehensive at first because he is like my uncle, so he is concerned about the implications because as you know all the Jamaicans are terrified about touching certain topics. But I assured him that this is a topic that every person of every gender and every persuasion can get behind. Because we're talking about protecting the children. And I don't know anybody who wouldn't stand behind that.
Tell me about In The Spirit – which was co-produced by Kevin Campbell.
This one is a co-production from scratch. Not like where we get a rhythm and we go on it. This is a song that we created together, myself and a brother of mine. His government name is Andrew Campbell. But he's called Kevin Campbell. He is the son of Al Campbell. He is one of those people who are serious Rastafari youths. Who just grew up on the mission. He has turned his home into a space where you could keep Binghi at his house. It is a communal space he created. He's involved his backyard.
But he is one of the first people to carry me to enough of the little secret spots in Jamaica. I met him when I was on campus. He was one of those real genuine Irie youths I counted as my brother. We've been friends for a very long time. He's been on this journey with me, someone that I could depend on as well as being somebody who grew up under the tutelage of uncle Chinna. He plays the guitar. We are always jamming around in his backyard – it’s like the evolution of Inna De Yard. He is creating that kind of space too.
So we were round the back of the yard and he played this guitar phrase he had been playing for a few weeks. We came up with the idea in the same way that I came up with a song like Steamers A Bubble. I looked around and created the chorus based on what was happening around me. We were literally in the midst of strumming. He had the guitar, somebody was playing drums, we were steaming and food was being prepared. So it really spoke to the environment. I went off and wrote the verses separately. Then he pulled the studio session together, got the musicians and we laid the track. Then after that I took it and I just added the flute.
It’s 9 minutes long – was that deliberate?
Quite intentionally - I wanted it to be nine minutes. Because it is a vibe song. It's one of those songs where if you notice, I don't mention ganja. I don't talk about smoking but you feel that vibe and those who know what steaming is will know. But it’s not a song that necessarily promotes it. It's promoting meditation in the spirit. So it's a song that can play and when you're using that medicine, it won't feel like nine minutes because you just let it happen. And I felt there was a space for it in a record where there are nine tracks. There is a space to do an extensive version of it.
In The Midst is a bit of a departure in that it has got quite an interesting rhythm. Not a one drop rhythm.
In The Midst is another song where I had another rhythm before. But I never did connect with the original rhythm as much. Even when I voiced it I wasn't getting what I wanted from it. It is things like that, that make me know I have to just produce music the way I want.
So I went into the studio and I got together a team. My dream team! Unga, Sheldon, Jalanzo and Aeon and we created the music together there. They are the co-producers of the music with me. They were able to follow the instructions that I wanted. I like it when musicians are exceptional because it makes it easier for them to take instructions and still not become too egomaniacal. They'll give me what I need.
And Sheldon knows what I like. It’s easier to communicate what I want to him because he's been with me for so long that he knows where I would take something. For the introduction of the song I knew I wanted it to feel like it was going to take you somewhere else. I wanted to give you that kind of earth, wind and fire kind of vibe to lift you up and then just rock back into the drop. I wanted it to be up and I wanted at the end for you to feel it - and I think I got that.
Natural Vibes is a romantic song, a kind of a jazzy soul thing. It's got female harmonies on it this time and it's a mixture of very smooth sounds and some slightly jarring sounds as well!
(laughs) The harmonies are going to be a little different when you hear the final version. But anything you hear on that record that sounds disturbing is supposed to be disturbing! It is quite intentional. There is no accidental disturbance on it.
Natural Vibes is another one that I produced. I sat with uncle Chinna on that one. I told him what I wanted and he was very patient to give me what I needed. And then we went into studio and pulled together some musicians again. Some of my people that I trust to give me what I need. Bubbler played the piano on that one and Aeon again on bass and C Sharp, from Chalice, and then Phanso put some percussion on it later.
But that track is supposed to make you feel like it's moving between two vibes. You feel the jazz more in the verses. You feel the swing. The slow kind of Irie vibe. Because of what she's saying so you want it to feel intimate. But at the same time when you forward to the choruses you feel more of the reggae in there. So brings it back to a simpler thing. It's just a natural vibes no matter how complicated it sounds. It's just a natural vibe of balance and feelings that are simple.
You said "because of what she is saying". Are you playing a character?
I do that all the time! I say "her" when I'm speaking about myself. When I'm speaking about myself, things that I'm doing, voices that I'm hearing in my music, I talk about it like “she” is on the other end. So everybody is used to me - I'm sorry! I will say “she has a part”, “she sings there” and “her voice”. I do the lead vocals and most of the harmonies apart from the male harmony on Unafraid.
The reason I ask is because I'm wondering if the lyrics are being said by a character or inspired by something that's happening in your life?
They are inspired by things that have happened. That is actually an older song. Maybe 2010 or before. That's when I wrote that song. I wrote that song off a different type of inspiration. I didn't have a rhythm for it in my mind. I tried putting on another one before but I didn't like how the rhythm sounded. So it is another thing where I didn't like how what I'm getting from the rhythm so I ended up creating the music from myself.
Across the album there are recurring themes and metaphors. The metaphor of fruit. The theme of the moon. And in the song Baptised water is very important.
It's about water and the moon! When I used to work on the plantation, when I used to work in corporate. I used to have these rituals that I did. I was never really cut out for corporate. So I had a lot of very well-developed rituals to keep my mind balanced. Once a week I would go to Portland to the beach. I would drive for two hours just to go to that particular beach in Portland. It was really necessary for me. And every full moon I would drive to St Thomas to Bath Fountain. I would climb the side of the mountain to a special place in the rocks, where hot water comes out of the side of the mountain. And they set a bamboo to catch it so it comes down like a shower. It is piping hot water because of the reaction in the chemicals, when you feel it on your skin it feels like boiling water. But it is highly sulphuric and it has a lot of very medicinal properties and minerals.
So that was something I used to do very often. I found it not just medicinal from my body and my physical but for my mind. The idea of the journey. Knowing that I was going to Bath Fountain and it would take two hours to go and I have to find people who would come with me. I am the one who is committed to this. I have to make it happen. To drive for two hours, is tiring and it's far away. When get there I have to have to go up the side of the mountain. Usually it is really dark. When I would go on the full moon I would get the light from the moon but otherwise I would have to use a phone light or attune my eyes to the darkness. And that's where “The eyes adjust, knees adjust” comes from.
So you are literally climbing the side of the mountain and when you reach the river you know because you feel the cold water. And then you walk for a distance and the water starts to change and you start to feel it get warm. And then it gets really hot and then that is where there is a small little pool and there is a shower. That's where the fountain happens. So that song is just supposed to be a depiction of or a description of my journey, my monthly ritual. To go out there. Standing under that water. I remember many times I would go out there and sometimes not even be sure that the trip is worth it. And then just going under the water and remembering "This is why I do this". Because there was just nothing to compare.
And I would only make that trod in the night. I don't go in the day because in the day there are a lot of people there from the community that want to give tourists massages and talk about what happened in the mountains many years ago. But I live here so I just go in the night. And it's a real high spiritual experience for me. And that intro - which is also the outro - "I go to the water to be baptised" is something when I'm out there by myself sometimes I will just sing that out in the night.
You are down in the midst of the river and you look up in the sky and there is a canopy of blue there and there is bush on both sides and then you look up and you see the mountain between. So that's one of those things that inspires you. And I wanted to turn that into a song. I thought the music that was surrounding that needed to tell the same story too. So that is the one where I enlisted the drummers to give me those Saint Thomas vibes without words to express the kind of ancient vibes that I was referring to.
I am going to guess that was the last one that was produced solely by you because the next one Spiritual Woman is produced by you and Tippy. I can tell because Vaughn Benjamin is on the track as well. Is this the last song because it's a definitive statement?
I think so. I think so for sure. As in I observe myself a lot with the decisions that I make sometimes in the spirit. I have changed the order of this record many times but I realised that that track remained there. And I know that it is a definitive statement. It kind of pulls everything together. And I like that you noticed that there are themes that I repeat. The theme of the moon is something that I repeat. Also the theme of the clay is something that I repeat. I speak about it when I begin and I speak about it when I end.
So there are these things are tied the record together on a subliminal level too because that is how I listen, this is how I read the world around me. I found that there are a small number of people who appreciate that in music as well and I look forward to those things. I know there is a space for people who will listen to this record several times and come back and tell me all the little things that they have noticed that I have done on purpose.
In the past you have denied you are a feminist. This is the kind of song where some of your feminist fans will say "You are a feminist!"
(laughs) Which will allow us to have the conversations we need to have. Because we're not talking about feminism in the song and that is why I feature a man on the track. Of all the tracks why would you put a man on that track? Because you have to show the balance. Because even within the masculine, the feminine needs to arise so when we talk about the feminine when not talking about women necessarily.
In this track we're talking about the system we've outlined and the things that need to change. The greatest hope for addressing and changing these things without resorting to guns and violence that make the scene fail is to approach it with love. With honesty and with the truth that will disturb and break all bonds. With love that only the feminine can bring, the nurturing that only the family can bring, the comfort that only the feminine can bring after the seriousness is happened.
So for Vaughn to put a verse was important to me. Because in listening to his music and how he represents woman in his in his music, I know he understands her place. I feel like he understands her place. I don't know his personal life. I only know what I've seen of him and in what we've spoken on when we met and how I met him. He is a humble individual who always shows so much love and respect to I. And I am the feminine and I don't feel anything but that from him.
So I wanted him to be on that track. With a song like that I need somebody who would match the intensity. And he did. He did so well. I have listened to his verse so many times and I found so much meaning in it. When he came to Jamaica I asked him about it and… you know how he answers questions! So it is within myself that I found so much meaning in the different things that he brought to the table with the messages that he put there.
Do you think sometime in the future you might do a full album with Tippy?
That is something that is really possible. I like Tippy's imagination and I think Tippy more and more as we work together is beginning to understand the things that I would like as well. So the last time they were here, we were in studio together, Vaughn was saying that there is a track that they did where he knows that I would really like it. I like when people start to feel what I would like. So that encourages me that we can work together. Because even if I wanted to change something and do something unorthodox, that trust that it is what I like can work. It means that we can experiment together. So Tippy is a producer and a brethren that I rate.
We've talked about the concept of the feminine in the past and you have explained what it means. But when it comes to the more superficial concept of the feminine two things that you have done recently in your media activity were the Vogue Reggae issue and an interview for MAC cosmetics. Is this like your yoga, another example of bringing things into Rastafari thinking that not everyone would necessarily be aware of or agree with?
The thing about both of those things is they are not things that I went after. And that is what makes a difference. These are things that I see presented to me, and we have to assess them with the spirit as well. Because just as you rightfully say, and I'm glad that you remember all of that, you are called to reach people outside of the norm. Outside of where you are sure they will be. So it's like if you get invited to a grand concert hall but you're not necessarily going to go into a little dumpy theatre because they don't have the right sound. But sometimes you just have to do that because that is where the people who need to hear you hear the message are.
I was asked recently by someone who works for one of these big liquor companies in Jamaica and jokingly saying "Boy they'll never invite me on that Hennessy whatever". And I know that when Hennessy puts on a show they go all out. You get the right sound, you get the right venue, you get the right everything. But I don't promote drinking alcohol and I don't promote Hennessey in particular. So I be like "Yeah man they'd invite me and then they never invite me again!"
But it's like the people they need it so it's not like I would shun some of these things. So more and more my mind is that "I have to be open to the spaces where people need to hear the message". So because I can speak so I'm going to be invited into spaces where maybe some other Ras artists wouldn't get invited into. Or maybe some baldhead artist wouldn't get invited to. I didn't grow up, as I say, in the tradition of Rastafari so I have a great sensitivity for people of all different kinds of cultural persuasions. I am very open and there are a lot of things that I do that probably a traditional person who grew in certain traditions would think "Oh, taboo".
Because doing the MAC cosmetics thing, it was not because I used MAC make-up that they got in touch with me. The photo that they used is from a photo shoot that is used from my album. One of my little Rasta sistrens she worked with MAC and she ended up putting some make-up on my face. Because that is something that we do. We're not heavily dealing with it like the Kardashians but at the same time there is the aesthetic appeal of a particular kind of look in the face and because I don't drink enough water and get enough sleep sometimes I will do those things too! (laughs)
But it was so much beyond that because even when I was reasoning with the sister about MAC we didn't talk about makeup. We didn't talk most of those things. It wasn't a discussion about that. It was a real discussion. Because women use MAC and the day that thing went up I didn't even know it was going up. And the impact it made on my Instagram, I know how powerful these tools are when you have the right messages and when you have the things were that people need to hear. You have to go compromise the self-righteousness and go to where they are. And that's the case with Vogue and with MAC because both of those instances broadened the audience, broadened the awareness. So we have to give thanks for them at the same time and it is for us to maintain the standards that we set.
You recently covered Woe To The Bloody City on VP’s We Remember Dennis Brown album. Which I think is a track some artists would be intimidated by.
(laughs) Why? Well you know, it is actually uncle Chinna that introduced me to that song. Because he had it in his jukebox. I remember when I heard it I just loved it. I just love the bass-line and I found out that he played the original bass-line. My brethren that works at VP was putting the thing together in telling me "You know, they are doing a Dennis Brown tribute album". And I was like "Oh, tough! Are you doing Bloody City? Because that is the sickest Dennis Brown song. Make sure you have that on it". And he was like "No that is not one of them. Do you want to do it?"
And I was like "You would have to change the key and all of the things that you have to do to make it work” and they made it work. And I got to hear the rendition where Clive Hunt put together the musicians and reproduced the song in a different key. But it is a song I love because uncle Chinna first taught me that song and I remember there was a Dennis Brown tribute show where I performed that song with uncle Chinna. That is my D Brown! That is in my top three D Brown tunes. They weren’t even going to put it on! The idea that this song wouldn't be on the record with all these love songs and things! Dennis Brown did have some serious Rastafari tunes and I just wanted to make sure that it was there.
You've taken control of your own album, you’re not afraid to go into new areas to broaden your audience, or cover a classic Dennis Brown song and make your own. You seem fearless in a lot of the things you do. Do you have fears? What are they?
Of course I do Angus. But my fears might be a little different. So these things are not things to fear. This music industry is not. If we approached the thing with wisdom and I have a good support system. The same one I've had ever since. I don't feel intimidated by the people in this industry.
Most of the things I fear are probably outside of the industry to do with myself and my potential to be light or darkness. So those are my real challenges and my real fears. My own personality and how I will deal with things and just my journey trying to stay in line with this spirit that has been guided me for so long. And just not being too hard on myself and not being driven by anything than the spirit.
Competition has never driven me and I think that's why I am not afraid. I'm not afraid to lose. I'm not afraid to learn. I'm not afraid to fall. I mean, you can't practise yoga and be afraid to fall. I'm not afraid of getting bruised and being dirty. Those are not my fears. And that is the kind of courage that I need to do this work. So I think I was properly prepared with the right amount of courage to do this and the right support system so I feel pretty confident musically.
Some fears might come because as a woman you have some insecurities about how you look. But these are things that don't even come from inside you. They come from outside you and are put inside of your head, so you know if you don't want you to feel bad about yourself you just stay away from certain visual stimuli. You're not going to watch a whole heap of TV to put things on your mind subliminally that you do not have control of. You protect yourself. Just like you protect yourself when you're driving a vehicle, you have to protect your mind. In your meditation you have to protect your mind the most. I think it’s that practice has made me appear fearless.