Jah9, on stage I've heard you referring to your music as not being entertainment. What is it about music, about being on stage that drew you that world?
Jah9: "Mostly being able to connect with people on a larger scale. The power of music is such that it allows you to energetically connect with large groups of people at once. With the right songs and the right lyrics this sometimes allows you to communicate much more as you would have done in a lecture or something similar. On top of that, if you are sincere in what you are offering, your message will not only be heard but also be felt by your audience. When I say my music is not entertainment, it's because I'm not about gimmicks, flashy lighting, dance moves or what have you. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but sometimes the intimacy of a small gathering is exactly what is called for to make the music speak to the people. We're all a part of this human experience and I certainly do not consider myself to be a star, so if we can share a moment like that it will be beneficial for all present."
That being said, I still feel that for you as an artist, perhaps more so than for some of the other Jamaican artists of your generation, it's all about the message when you're on stage. At times you can come across as being stern and super serious. Aren't you afraid that might put certain people off?
Jah9: "(laughs) I know! I've even experienced that already and let's be honest there are people out there who don't want to be challenged and are only looking to be entertained; often these are people who want to escape their existence for a while, perhaps even numbing themselves with drugs. There's serious things going on all around us in the world and instead of trying to escape them, we should try to understand, embrace and perhaps change them. My music forces you to be present in the now; it's meditative music designed to tune in, rather than tune out. I see my music as medicine as well, and let's be honest, there's more than enough dance and party music out there already. I'm not about getting your body to move, but about reaching your soul. It's true not everybody is as intense as I am, but I think because I am a woman, it's easier for people to accept that as it's the woman's role to nurture as well. It's always better to be scolded by your mother as she will also be there afterwards to hug you! (laughs)"
I also heard you say music is broken…
Jah9: "When I say music is broken, I mean that on several levels, not just because of the things that are being said in much of today's music, but also the way music is approached in western society, where's it's seen almost solely as entertainment, when it can be so much more. Broken doesn't necessarily mean bad, but it means deconstructed, taken apart and put back together in a different way. Music is something that affects the human condition. A lot of the music we're being fed these days isn't feeding our mind nor enriching our heart anymore. Personally I prefer music that is soothing rather than agitating."
Thinking of songs like 'The Marijuana', 'Steamers A Bubble' and 'Fire', your repertoire is certainly not short of a ganja tune.
Jah9: "I've doing ganja tunes for many many years. My relationship with herb is almost purely medicinal. I really started getting into using marihuana when I discovered steaming (vaporizing marijuana, a method that allows the inhaler to experience the effects of marijuana without putting themselves at risk from the toxins that accompany smoking marijuana, namely carcinogenic tars and gases, red.), because I discovered the positive effect it had on me. I'm asthmatic and have been hospitalized because of that many times and steaming ganja has proven a great remedy. As you might know, marihuana has already been used in several commercial medicines, but in my opinion there's no substitute for the real thing. As is the fact with other natural herbs like spirulina, soursop leaf, moringa or guinea hen weed. I fully believe in using the elements of creation to heal ourselves. Earlier we talked about music being broken, well the same goes for our food. We eat to fill our bellies and to make our tongues feel good, but we no longer eat to nourish ourselves. In my music I try to instill the things I've learned. I'm not looking for you to shout: "Rastafari!" or agree with every word coming out of my mouth, but I try to share my outlook on things like ganja or Haile Selassie I in the hopes someone will benefit from that knowledge the same way I did."
Slowly but surely the world is moving towards the legalization of marihuana. I do wonder though if we're prepared to deal with the possible negative side effects coming with that process.
Jah9: "(decided) In my opinion there are no negative effects that can come from legalizing ganja except for the things that can come from having a middleman and having the people who are growing the herb not being the ones benefiting from it. When we do legalize marihuana we definitely have to look at the economical aspects. People with addictive personalities will always find something to get addicted to wither it be ganja, alcohol or even nail polish! Herb is a medicinal plant that should not be regulated but be allowed to grow freely like any other plant out there. Persecuting people for using herb, while at the same time allowing them to use tobacco and alcohol is pure and simple hypocrisy! It only shows your government doesn't really care about you; all they are interested in is lining their pockets with the taxes they get from the big cigarette and alcohol brands. Herb is healing regardless what the government says!"
For 'New Name' you joined forces with Rory Stonelove, was that also the case for '9'?
Jah9: "For this album I'm taking charge of production myself, but I've also collaborated with a number of producers, Rory included. It includes productions by Pura Vida, Rory and Tippy I from St. Croix, and will be released on my own brand new label called Steam Chalice Records (and distributed by VP Records, red.)."
You just mentioned Tippy I from I-Grade Records there. Virgin Island reggae has its own sound and vibe, something that seems to suit your lyrics. Is that something you've noticed as well?
Jah9: "Oh, most definitely! The music that's been coming from the Virgin Islands in the past few years is really special. I find it to be very spiritual music as well. The first production I did with Tippy was a track called 'Tension' and ever since then our relationship has only intensified. I returned to St Croix for Dub In The Rainforest and also did a Yoga In Dub session there. The people over there are also very receptive to the kind of vibe I am bringing. There's definitely more to come!"
We can't leave out talking about your Belgian link, your collaboration with Pura Vida. How did that connection come about?
Jah9: "(laughs) That's a whole story, but it's most definitely a special connection. I wouldn't even call it a Belgian connection, because if it was just a Belgian connection it probably wouldn't have happened. Bregt had been sending me music for a while and even though I continuously get sent music from all over the world, I don't necessarily mean I connect with it. Somehow I immediately connected with his productions though. To me he didn't sound like a Belgian or even a European producer; it just sounded like roots music. I was so surprised that this white man produced this music that sounded so cool, that I took it to Rory to have him listen to it. Now you have to know that Rory is not very open to European reggae music, but when he heard Bregt's music he didn't need any convincing either. The first tune we did together was 'Showers Of Blessing'. After that I started to listen to more of Bregt's productions and found myself doing my yoga sessions to his songs. Apart from that, whenever I would come to Europe he would just find a way to turn up. As a person he's one of the most humble people I've met in a long time. When I was here last summer I invited him to join me on stage at several festivals were I performed. He played percussion and really added a nice element to my show. I then visited him at his home and when I saw his studio space, I understood this was someone who was channeling spirits through all that old vintage equipment he uses. Bregt is not a European at all, he just happens to be born here. We really have a special connection and I'm sure it will still bear many fruits in time to come."
You're of course also known as a great advocator of yoga. Did you feel that aspect was missing from the Rastafarian livity/way of life?
Jah9: "I don't thing yoga was missing from Rastafari as I believe it's always been part of it. His Imperial Majesty practiced yoga (In Ryszard Kapuściński's 'The Emperor' we found the following passage: "The Emperor now devoted himself to long periods of meditation ["In this the Hindus once gave him instructions, ordering H.I.M to stand on one leg, forbidding H.I.M to breathe, making him close his eyes"]. Immobile he would meditate in his office for hours…", and in an excerpt from a letter to the Indian philosopher and statesman Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, His Majesty mentions yoga as well: "Were the thoughts of Plato and Socrates, the beliefs of Christianity and Judaism not harmonized with Hindu philosophy; were Yoga and its various stages not exposed to Western thought; had Western religion and philosophy not been exposed to the philosophy and religion of the East through Your Excellency's persistent endeavor, how much the poorer would human thought have been!", red.)… Leonard Howell practiced yoga…When I think of Rastafari, I don't think of it in a religious sense; to me it's a flexible open concept that's continually being redefined by the people who consider themselves to be Rastafarians. In essence Rastafari is trying to move towards the Most High. I believe the more we try to break away from the religious aspect of Rastafarianism, the more we will be able to come into our own as human beings. Rastafari is supposed to be the truest expression of the human experience; meaning you can be both Buddhist and Rastafarian, or be a Muslim and a Rastafarian. Yoga goes hand in hand with the basic principles of Rastafari. Christian doctrine is very weary of yoga because the idea of emptying oneself is frightening for them. Basically yoga is the practice of trying to reunite oneself with the Most High; using the regulation of your breath to bring you to the highest level of consciousness. I challenge anyone who calls themselves anything to come and tell me wither or not to use these principles. I've seen it work and I have no time to argue about it or try to convince anyone of its value."
You don't really affiliate yourself with any of the mansions of Rastafari…
Jah9: "(decided) I affiliate myself with all of them! That being said, I affiliate myself with the Zen Buddhists and Hindus as well. Wherever I can find value, I will try to hold onto that. As a woman I'm all about pulling things together. There's space for everybody and everything and we should stop focusing on our differences as we have so much more in common."
As a young woman, have you given any thought about balancing a career in music and possibly having children?
Jah9: "(laughs) Well, we'll see… I'm not so much building a career as I'm building a community, and once you establish a community, the people who are part of that community will share each other's burdens and help out wherever necessary. I want to be able to come to Europe and know I can safely leave my children in the hands of this or that person. We should try and bring back communal living as it existed in village life in the past. Without that community around you, to me it's almost irresponsible to bring children into this world. I'm convinced a child needs much more than a mother and a father."
You're involved in many things… is fashion one of them?
Jah9: "(laughs) Well, I'll have you know my mother is a seamstress, so through my upbringing, I've been instilled with the value of presenting yourself in a descent manner. That being said, I've always been somewhat of a tomboy and I still wear my jeans and t-shirt everywhere, but at the same time whenever I need to present myself, I understand the importance of projecting a positive female image. My mother still plays a big part in the way I present myself. She's one of the most talented seamstresses I know and makes all of my stage outfits, often using African fabrics. I think it's very important to be able to show young women you can look beautiful and even sexy but in a decent way. If you're talking fashion in the sense of following trends and what have you, then, no, I'm not into that. To me fashion is about exuding confidence and being oneself!"