Interview with Janine Jah9 Cunningham [Part II]
03/04/2013 by Justine Amadori Ketola
Interview with Jah9 - PART II
Your mother is a social worker, as is mine, would you say her work influenced your pursuits as an activist in your art?
Definitely, I watched my mother work with the Social Development Commission, this was in the '80's. At that time, they would have like skills training centers, in the community, in the form of community, where young women and men would get to learn a trade. Then they would get to learn to read and write while they got to learn to sew, so you have those people who are academically inclined, but you find that a lot of African descent, don't necessarily, and especially people who, were not raised in certain Western traditions, they don't necessarily gravitate towards academics. Especially because the language barrier, because of the way that somatic is taught to them, it doesn't have anything to do with their intelligence. They have a lot to face in order to reach the level where they can really expand academically, but they are brilliant people, who when they apply their natural abilities to practical activities you see them shine. I watched my mother really engage a lot of people that way. She ended up where, I had a foster sister, we always had people living in our house who my parents were inspired by who they would give the opportunity to spend time to help. That was the tradition of my grandparents as well, just always a sense of community and that is an African tradition too, you know, it is the village that raises the child. My family was always extended in that way and I would always watch my mother really give so much, sometimes even more than she should in my estimation. I have watched my parents serve people all their lives, and that has profoundly impacted me, in the sense that I will not allow myself to be taken advantage of in some of the ways I think my parents have been taken advantage of. In another sense, it has shown me the importance of service, for even yourself, not even for accolades from other people, but the reward you get form serving and giving. That is also a part of the message of the Christ, I am profoundly impacted by these people. I would not have opted to live this life, unless I had examples like those. So I truly put it all on them, I am definitely a product of my parents.
The theme for the New Name video is so strong and the production is so interesting, how did you collaborate with the director to make the video?
The director, Michael "Kush" Lee, he was also on his journey in Rastafari, at a time when we were doing this video, and because of that, he took a lot of care and effort in how it was he wanted to present this theme. There were particular things I wanted to ensure. I wanted to ensure certain of the visual aspects like the images, the Ethiopian images, ensuring that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, even though I am not a member of that church, I know the significance of that church being in Jamaica. So just to highlight that as this is the work of His Majesty, ensuring that the people, were exposed to the Orthodox faith. Ensuring that books that inspired me and books that I know are important literature for anybody that is on such a journey, instead of going through and calling the names of these books… just going through and making it visually, without forcing anybody.
A woman might have a question about what they're hearing, they literally have the evidence of it right there. Its really important that we acknowledge that knowledge is the key. It has really made a difference in my life to the point now where I am trying to not read so much and kind of put some of the knowledge I have into practical, and learning to empty the mind. You have to elevate yourself to a particular point before you can even begin to empty, but its a cycle as well. That cycle of renewal as well, I wanted to show, Kush Lee, he kind of just took it and he translated his own journey into it as well, so even the youth that we shot and the location, all of that was his inspiration. Even shooting that video, that was such a high spiritual experience as well, because we had so much serious challenges that made it seem like, 'no this is not even, this has to be the hand of something other than these individuals present.' It almost didn't happen at all, trust me, we had so many challenges. Its one of those things that if you really want this thing, you are going to have to work for it, trust me, it took everything out of all of us to manifest the end product. I remember when I saw the first cut of it, it brought tears to my eyes, I wasn't even looking at it like 'oh looking at myself' it was like it was communicating something and I felt it like, well there is not turning back now.
What do you say to your contemporaries in Jamaica when you consider the depiction of women in music lyrics and videos and in the club scene?
Bwoy, you see, I try to say very little about that, because it is such a sensitive issue. I try as much as possible to be an example of that feminine that I would like to see more of, because we have a warped sense of what feminine means. When I say we, I mean the masses have a warped sense of what feminine means, you watch your legs and your underarms, and you wear a particular style of clothes, you wear makeup and you look baity, and it is a completely superficial thing. You have all these women who look a particular way and they are the most aggressive the way they deal with each other, and the way they deal with the men, they are not feminine or compassionate. They don't want to be perceived as soft, because they have gone through these struggles and it is so important to be strong, they have lost their softness. Even I, over the years have found that happened to me, in just making sure that I am strong, I lost that softness, I had to really work to reconnect with it. Its a thing that we suffer from because we don't learn that softness and that compassion, we learn an aggressiveness, even on a sexual level. There is no moment of just appreciating softness, cause the women are hard, and the men are harder, and if you treat a man too softly, or give him too much compassion, he doesn't know how to deal with it and he probably will take advantage of it. And a woman now will see a man treating them gently and she doesn't even know how to deal with that, she will take advantage of him just because.
I could not be so arrogant as to think of where the work has to start, you know, all I could say is that, when I see a woman…. you can look at a woman and know. There are certain things that make you look at a woman and there are certain things that just make you know that his woman has experienced trauma. As a yoga instructor too, you watch how people carry themselves, and how they hold their heart center and whether they are concave and holding it in or whether they are sticking out and all of these physical cues are emotional cues as well, you know. So the most is I will do is like, embrace them and just show love, because they look at me and they think immediately that I show judgement. Because I look a particular way and I have on a long skirt and my hair wrap up. They would think that because them have on them batty rider that I must look down on them. As much as possible I shower these women with love and I find that because I grow up and I had a strong family and my father is such an example to me, I am part of a very small minority and I can't take it for granted. So I try to be even more compassionate with the brothers and sisters and when I become impatient, I remind myself that these people are not even dealing with me, these people are dealing with all of the issues that they have been carrying for so long. Using compassion and love and overstanding with our brothers and sisters, and that is where we have to be and as a woman, I am doing what it is that I think needs to be done which is, giving that voice to the feminine.
I could write songs about heartbreak that would sell even more than the music I am making now, because people love to relate to pain, we define ourselves by the pain that people feel. But I have made a conscious effort to only speak highly of my brothers and to only give them strength. Even if I am going to talk about a shortcoming it has to be punctuated with a solution. That is the service too, I would love to be able to vent about some things that have happened in my life but, it takes a lot of discipline to just say 'No, I am going to really put my best foot forward because its a responsibility to get the people's ears.' Its a privilege, it is not anything that any of us are entitled to, so I take this really seriously and it means that I have to do a lot of work on myself, because I am far from perfect but everyday….I actively... that has to be the work. Seek first the kingdom within myself.
Those are excellent observations, you have opened my mind up further, what obstacles do you face as a woman in the music business, both in Jamaica and outside in the global music community or conversely, what doors are opening for you as a woman?
I am glad you asked it like that. I think its quite balance, and I think it would be fair to say that the challenges are greater than the opportunities. Because a lot of times it will be as though people, they are not doing it on purpose, but there isn't anybody standing up and saying, 'I am woman, I am woman unapologetically.' I am not even trying to be feminist, I am being woman. I will sing a song and I will talk about the fact that I am woman in my song, so it means that not everybody, the men might not sing along in that part, but singing and being as honest I can with my female experience. Its not jump up and jump up music, so themes are heavier, because being a woman is a great responsibility, great meaning good as well as great meaning heavy, we are forced to be connected to earth. So we are forced to look at things that it might be easier for a man to just ignore. So one of the things that man might ignore is woman, so you might have a show where my colleagues are invited and I am not, and I could think it is because I am a woman, as its true to think that maybe the themes that I am carrying are too heavy and people don't want to be put in that frame of mind right now, they would rather jump up and be happy.
Everybody's entitled to whatever it is they need, but a time will come when maybe they might buy my music and they'll put it in their CD player in their car or in their house and sit with it. That's really the kind of music, that is reflective, and I acknowledge that is the kind of music that I am making. Not necessarily jump up in the street, it is more sit and listen, solve and hopefully heal. So the challenge is always there that you would want to get more, but I don't even want to call it a challenge yet, cause really and truly I have not had a product to give anyone to say, 'look at what this girl is doing.' I look at it intentionally to not mass-produce the single and put it out because I wanted to approach it in a different way. I don't want to approach it like I am trying to be a part of this industry, I am approaching it like I am living the life that I want to live. The music that I am making and the pace that it is coming is exactly how it would naturally come even if I was not doing it to share it with the world. The life I am living, I am trying to be true to that, than 'you need another single from me now' kinda thing, you see me? I don't have another single, I don't have another video. I am trying to get this video done for "Jungle" because I realized I am getting a lot of positive feedforward about that song. I have been organizing this video for months now and it still hasn't manifested. I have just had to surrender and say 'Alright when it does then it will' and yeah, I am losing momentum but I don't even want to think about that cause it is going to stress me out. I just think about, 'Alright, when I wake up this morning, I have to make sure that today was well spent.' When I go to my bed and when I reflect on the things that I have learned over the time, and hope that I am growing every day. When the opportunities come and I am sure they will come and when this album is released, I know it will make a significant impact, not because I wrote the songs but because it has manifested out of believing for this kind of music. I just give thanks that I could be a part of this. So, I am woman, yeah but I know say because I am human, I am able to do some things that my bredren them not going to be able to do, and reach some places and reach some people you see me?
"Avocado" the song, highlights the Rasta livity and principles of healthy eating and simplicity. What are your personal favorite principles, now we know you are a yoga practitioner, what ways have learned by living in the land of wood and water?
I am so glad you took that from that song, I am so proud of you. That was exactly the message is about, it is about a livity. How I practice, I try to incorporate successfully, yoga into every day, because I teach so much I don't get to practice, because in teaching you don't always get a chance to practice. I am a vegan, I don't eat animal protein at all. I just try to live and be active, even if I am not exercising and I miss a day. Because of the way that I am always just always just bouncing around, I literally am full of energy. I am not even a good example of how one can live their life with this thing because I was blessed to be slim, so I have been the same waist size since I was a teenager. So my making the choice to live a particular way with the food that I am eating, it is not even about being slim or being fit, it is more about how I feel within myself when I eat a particular way and there is a lightness when your food is alive. So as much as possible I encourage people to incorporate live food instead of eating terribly and then going on a fast a couple times a year. I have learned it is wiser to incorporate fasting into a week, where there is one day a week where you just will drink coconut water and green juice, you don't eat at all. You just incorporate meditation and exercise and all these things into your day to day, into short little time spans. So it doesn't feel like its too dramatic and you might fail. You might set yourself up to fail you don't set these challenges for yourself. You incorporate this to be a part of your lifestyle. The reason why this is important to feed yourself well, otherwise you are going to end up being subject to medication and prescription drugs and things that should never even have to be incorporated into your life if you are imbalancing yourself in a certain way. For those that are already at the tail end of that spectrum, there is so much medicine in earth to solve some of these problems so it almost like it is never too late. I live in Jamaica where fortunately I have 'nuff Rasta people around me and 'nuff elders who can tell me what all of the herbs are for. Sometimes you are outside and you see something growing and you never plant it there and it just start growing outside. These are the ways that the most high manifest medicine for us, so you have herbs like Ramgoat, Dashalon, particular types of Lavender, particular types of fern that just grow up in the mountain of Portland. Walking through any community you find all kinds of herbs and if you know the right people, if you have headache, sinusitis, anything that could possibly be wrong with you, there is an herb for it.
This is how my grandparents grew up, this is traditional Jamaican society where we know how the bush thing go, how to heal ourselves with the herb and you know, it is people from foreign, come to Jamaica and discourage us from using our own natural herbs, discouraging us, it kind of increase the number of fat people, increase the amount of sick people. We wont even debate on why it is an agenda like that, but the fact of the matter is, the closer you stay to the earth, the healthier you are going to be. With foods like Moringa that are so easy to grow that are the most nutrient-rich food on the planet. There is no reason for anybody to be malnourished. It is just because the way we are programmed with food that you are satisfied when your belly full, you look for a physical sensation rather than at how your body is being nourished, you end up filling your stomach and stretching your stomach muscles and you end up in a state where you are not being nourished, but being filled with calories. So you feel the heaviness, but you don't have anything to support your immunity, as much as possible, its to try to balance that. I find that when my balance is thrown off, its because I am not nurturing myself. If I am eating more than exercising... spending time doing nothing, I endorse spending time doing nothing. I have a little ritual, I will sit and allow my mind to empty, and just not think about anything, especially because I live in my head so much. I literally have to make time to everyday to not do anything or think about anything. I encourage that, especially with my friends who are still attached to some kind of plantation vibes, whether its corporate Jamaica or something that don't really have anything to do with them life, and its something that is impacting them life. Those people I try to encourage them to skull work one day and let me give them a yoga session, and carry them to the beach or something, just so they can reconnect and remember that hey, that isn't life, this is life. So when I retired at 25 and I told all of my bosses and all of these people that I retired, they didn't even understand it. So you have to tell them, 'you know, I am retiring to do music' they want to know, I mean they really want to know that you are going to be ok. But it isn't even because of music, it is because it wasn't life, and fortunately Jah blessed me with the ability to write and put music together, so that I would have something to do. But either way, that was just not going to be the story of I.
What performances would you like to highlight or plans that you have coming up in the weeks and months going into the summer?
I know what is happening right now its February 26th, NEW NAME will release to the world and I will know if people really feeling this thing that I am feeling. There are some Reggae Month events going on in Jamaica, so probably we will be a part of some of those, there are plans to go to Costa Rica and share with the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I am hoping I can get to go to Columbia soon, cause I have done some work with a group called Indigenous Resistance from South America. That is some revolutionary work, some serious issues and some highly political. I was very inspired to be a part of it cause I felt their struggle. I checked on line one day and I realized that there is a mural with my face painted on it there in Columbia. So I thought, 'I need to go down there and see these people!' South America, Africa, these are places that I am very interested in sharing with very soon. A lot of it is not so much plans that I made as much as putting out to the universe as these are places that I would want to go in my life. I am open right now, plans are in the works now for all the festivals and so on. I know we have to do a lot and as I tell you, it is not a huge team, what we're doing right now. Its a small, efficient set of people who love I and love the works, from the Most High. So we are doing our research with the festivals, who is interested, where they are playing Rastafari music, where they are playing Jazz because you know, my abilities give me a flexibility to not just keep the sound just to Reggae. There is a lot of potential, this first record, had to be done this way, because of this message and this sound. But there is so much more within I to manifest that I can just you know, hope that the world will appreciate and no one will think that I am betraying your heritage.
Who are the musicians that you have planned to work on the release party and live streaming event in Kingston on 2/26? CHECK THE PHOTO-REPORT HERE!
Most of the people we are trying to get are people that have worked on the record. I haven't started rehearsal yet, I am getting just a little bouncy now because I am like, 'ok we need to start rehearsals this week,' but we have people like, Kirk Bennett and Donald "Danny Bassie" Dennis, drum and bassie awesome drum and bass team, they have played with everybody who is anybody in Jamaica. Rory put together a set of amazing musicians to work on this record. These are people we are trying to get in, in addition, Earl "Chinna" Smith, I don't want you to quote me on this, I am not sure Uncle Chinna will be able to do it because there is a lot that is going on right now, but he is committed to being a part of it, so he will be there. You know how it can go between planning and execution, a lot of things can change, but yeah, Sheldon Bernard, and Paul "Scubi" Smith, all of these people people, and so we want to have a full horn section as well and a percussion section as well. So we are trying to have the full sound represented, cause you have heard the record and you know that it is heavy and live and a lot of instrumentation and the hope is that we can reproduce the sound. We want to be of course be true to my roots and have the Yoga Angels represented, have the Rastafari community represented, have dance represented, in some way, while still keeping it in a nice and decent time frame, and I am hoping to get it streamed, we are in the process of getting a live stream so that we can, have everybody who is interested watch the show.
Thank you so much for you wisdom, any more words for the massive?
I am really glad that it was a woman that got to do this interview, just because I think there is a sensitivity that is required, not just because I am a woman, but now, approaching anything of consciousness, we sisters, we really have a serious road ahead of us in this new age that has begun, to kind of inject reggae music, inject all forms of culture dissemination with that nurturing, compassionate touch, because that is really what the revolution is you know, the revolution is not guns, its not blowing up anybody and war and all of these things, the revolution is love, the revolution is when a man say something to you and disrespect that you stand up in him face and you look at him, that you know this man is not really disrespecting me, this man is probably going through some real things and that is really why he is looking for someone to take it out on and embrace him in that moment with love. What can a man in a situation do like that if he is bringing himself in that way, if we have to be the function of man, we have to stop competing with men and serve them. Not in a way that we are less than them, but in a way that we are so strong that it is our responsibility to serve.