No matter what genre an artist is working in, she always seeks to bring something of herself to it, to donate something to an already-existing bigger picture. That contribution may be as small as a splotch of yellow appearing on every canvas produced by a painter, or, as it is for Kingston, Jamaica-based Jah9, as impactful as a whole new style of music. The Baptist minister’s daughter is credited with introducing a new breed of reggae known as “jazz-on-dub,” a smooth, blues-inflected take on the typically sparse sound of early dancehall.
Following the staggered release of a handful of carefully chosen singles, Jah9 unleashed her debut album, New Name, early in 2013, to warm acclaim in the reggae community. Her next full-length, Rebellion, expected out this fall, seems poised to break into ever-wider circles.
“This actually the first album I was working on in 2007,” says Jah9. “It was a very important part of a journey to learn about myself and has even more of the jazz-on-dub style.” In addition to the socially and spiritually conscious lyrics that are a hallmark of her music, fans attending Jah9’s shows will be treated to “elements of the culture and envisionist arts and Rastafari,” the singer says. “Many people don’t really have exposure to the words of His Majesty, so it becomes a cliche to say ‘Rastafari.’ It’s important to present the words of His Majesty; I put them in context now, so they understand. And of course I engage them in music where marijuana is concerned.”
When the singer was nine, her older brother died of leukemia. That experience helped spark Jah9’s interest in marijuana’s medicinal properties. “Herb is medicine,” she explains. “We have a strain of herb right now that takes six months to grow. Some herb only takes three months to grow, so our herb gets extra exposure to sunlight. We are so lucky.”
Though Jah9 doesn’t smoke weed recreationally, she regularly practices yoga to keep herself centered and healthy -- a task that seems increasingly more challenging in the face of modern life. “There are many people, in Jamaica in particular, who suffer from a set of diseases that plague people on this side of the world,” she says, “things like diabetes and hypertension especially, and these diseases are part of a world condition.”
Jah9 believes that the growing of the plant itself has benefits for the earth. “Marijuana goes hand in hand with sustainable development and hand in hand with agriculture or permaculture, whatever you want to call it,” she says.
One of the joys of her life as a musician is “that I can make new friends to just pass on information [about marijuana],” she says. She acknowledges that though Jamaica’s House of Representatives brought the decriminalization of marijuana to the table last October, a vote has yet to be taken, and the country’s laws remain stifling. “We’ll see how legislation and discussion in Jamaica can progress a little more quickly now,” she says, “but the reality is still the same -- there is still oppression on marijuana here.”
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In addition to her forthcoming album, Jah9 has started a campaign with its roots deep in marijuana soil, called “Healing of the Nation.” As part of the campaign, she put together a mixtape that she describes as “a great conversation about marijuana and Jamaica and Rastafari. It’s called For the Love of Kush.” The mixtape is available for free download here. Two other components of the Healing the Nation campaign include the “Steamers A Bubble” video and the brand-new video for the acoustic track “Taken Up.”