As of January 2019, Jah9 has so far released two studio albums, had one of them dubbed by Mad Professor, released an EP, released countless mixtapes, has toured Europe, the UK, Africa and Brazil, and is set to release her much-anticipated third studio album some time this year. Jah9's music has been described as niche - it's not something that everybody will instantly be able to relate to, but the ones that do relate will be able to take so much.
9 herself uses the term art music when talking about her work, and it's no mistaken claim. Jah9's music is that of meditation music - both the lyrics and rhythm and require dedicated (livicated) studying and understanding (over-standing) in order to fully appreciate (appreci-love) what is being brought forward. As part of my interview with Jah9 at Yoga on Dub in France, in August 2018, I asked the soulstress to elaborate on her musical journey.
2016 saw the release of your second album 9. It’s a very powerful album that will go over many people’s heads. Can you tell us about how your music has evolved since the first album New Name?
9: Constantly. That’s how its evolved. With the first record, the influence was mostly from Rory Stone Love, so I presented to him the idea of dub and doing the album in that way; not just roots music but a more stripped down version of it. I kind of poured my influence into him and he was able to give me the sounds that I needed to hear, and we were able to build sounds together and we were able to bring forth that record. [However] it was still him guiding me in the process; him behind the board; him creating the music.
9: [With] this last album 9, I was the one who was at the wheel and I was able to be way more particular about how I wanted all of it. Even in the co-productions and collaborations I was able to guide the process myself, and there were a few songs where I was able to guide the entire production process, and so, for me, it means that it’s a more personal project; not just musically but thematically. From the artwork to the numbers involved; the number science involved in tempo and the length of the songs; like, all of it; I got to really pour all of my OCD into it. [So] yeah, that’s how it is, so I wanted to present that album. It is art music, so you’re right, there are people who are not yet ready to receive everything, and that’s okay because that means it’s an album that will grow with people. In a decade from now, someone might pick it up and listen to it again and it reveals something brand new to them, so that is the part of the evolution.
9: The next record that I will be going into, which will be released next year, is going to be less art music and more relatable music. I feel like now we’ve established who I am, what I do and how I want to present myself, [so] now I want to make the messages a little more accessible to those who are not necessarily looking for the art in music; the less sophisticated listener who needs the message just as much, or even more, so the evolution is taking a step.
The album 9 celebrated its album release party in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016. Do you have plans to tour Africa again any time soon?
9: Africa is why I am doing this. Africa is why. It was like the music I wanted to hear, that I wasn't hearing, I decided to create it, and I decided that I wanted to do this journey of going around the world. I mean, I come to Europe and I come to these places where they will pay me well so that I can go to Africa where they may not be able to afford to pay me as well. This work is for my black continent, because InI people need this message more than ever, [even] if it means we serve ourselves and do the kind of music we like, and then we break it down so we can spoon-feed it to our brothers and sisters, if we need to. Africa is the inspiration; Africa is the source of my inspiration, so my intention is to inspire.
Everybody listens to music for different reasons. Myself personally, one of the main things I listen out for is the lyrics. As we’ve said already, the I is a powerful lyricist and strong ambassador of Word Sound Power. Can you tell us about your songwriting process?
9: My process evolves with time. I am poet, first - a word smith - and so it’s words that usually come first. Now that I have become a performing artist, sharing my Word Sound as opposed to just writing it for myself, I do hear the music with it, but it is always words first, and the words come from that inspiration. Sometimes it comes as just a phrase or a verse; sometimes the whole verse comes at once and I have to wake up out of my sleep and capture it, or it will haunt me. It’s just really capturing the essence and it is having experiences and presenting it.
9: We’re all listening to music all the time, and we’re listening to sounds in general. We’re watching movies, we’re out in the forest, we’re at the sea, at the river, and all of these sounds are part of the experience that helps to mould what will come forward. My process is just capturing it, and there’s no one way that I do it; it’s just as the inspiration comes. I try to make sure that I always have some way to capture it, whether it’s with my phone, in a voice note or writing it with pen and paper, or just expressing it out into the universe if I have no way to capture it.
Can you tell us about your track Baptised?
9: I call it my greatest experiment. It is a song that, production-wise, the way that song came to me; that bass line… it is all water inspired. That song is living water it is water for my spirit and it was inspired by my relationship with sacred water; sacred fire water in Jamaica. It was a ritual while I was in my other life in corporate Jamaica; it was a really important ritual for me. Every full moon I would go to Bath Fountain, climb the mountain side in the dark of night, and bathe in the hot water. That was how I was able to endure living in that world until I was emancipated from that world, and while I would do these rituals, that part of the chant “I go to the water to be baptised” is something I would sing over and over as I would bathe in that water. It was a real honour for me to get a chance to put that to song.
If you could pick any one of your tunes to play for the fans reading/listening right now, and one tune from any artist in the world - which tunes would you pick and why?
9: Today, in this moment - because a question like that, really, is going to be dependent on where I’m sitting, how much food is in my belly, and all of these things - so in this moment, the song I would play for the people would be Field Trip.
9: It’s a brand new song but it’s not really new. It’s a ten year old song, but I would play that song just because it is a song that encourages movement and breath, and freedom, and it’s a ganja song. It don’t sound like a ganja song but it’s really encouraging - even if it’s not ganja you’re going to use to find that place - it encourages that place of joy and peace, so I would play that.
9: From another artist - I have no white God; don’t teach me anything wrong; no white man save I from white man oppression; I have no white God; it is just a Black messiah. Yeah man, that one there. That is what I’m feeling right now.
Find Jah9 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube, and read more our interview here! Photography & Jah9 artwork by Samo 'Kush-I' Johnson (@samokush_i)