Back in August, Jamaican dub poet and vocalist Jah9 braved the relative cold of Kelmarsh to grace the main stage of Shambala Festival 2016. We caught up with her after the show to talk about her experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, the power of intuition and why doing what you love matters.
As a Jamaican woman and a Rasta, do you have any comments about being female in such a male-dominated, arguably hyper-masculine culture?
I think the world is pretty male-dominated. In Jamaica, as in most of the diaspora, there is a lot of male energy and dominance in the music as in all industries. But more and more I find that women are rising, stepping forward and getting into music.
There are women who’ve inspired me to step forward, like Etana, Queen Ifrica and so on. And then I’ve seen women who’ve been inspired by me step forward. They’re educated women who now see that music is a viable option. You’re not limited to simply being a backing singer or whatever any more. You can stand up do your own thing, you know?
I own my own publishing company, I’m a producer, I have a record label. I mean, this is the information age, it doesn’t take that much to be a record executive. You can do your own thing, you can create. And it’s important that women especially realise this because we have a significant role to play in creation. We are connected to life, to cycle, to earth.
How did you get into music in the first place? Did you follow in the footsteps of your family?
I didn’t force my way into this industry, and I wouldn’t have. I don’t believe in forcing myself into any situation. It was really more of a pull factor for me.
No one in my family is a musician, I am an anomaly. I had a good job, I was making good money in corporate Jamaica but it wasn’t the life I felt comfortable in, I wasn’t getting the fulfilment I wanted. When I stepped away from all of that and started to just serve my genie, serve my spirit, you know? Doors just started to open.
So how did that come about? Were you singing on the side in the space around your day job?
My father is a pastor so there was a lot of hymns and scriptures and singing in the church. I was on every choir and I would learn all the parts. My voice was my instrument and I was always writing poetry. I’d never written music or songs but the singing and the writing were happening at the same time.
Later in my life I got introduced to roots music. Instrumental dub gave me so much space to put my words. As a poet it really inspired and drew words out of me. I started to share what I created.
Do you think women are forced to choose between family and career in a way that men are not? Is that a choice you’ve had to make?
I don’t have children yet because I am carefully planning how I want to tread this earth. No disrespect to anyone who has done it another way but I want to be there for my youths. I want to set a good foundation for them, even in finding the person I’m going to have my youths with.
All of these are serious decisions and while I am working on those things I can do music and spread my message. But I intend to have both.
Do you have a final message for our readers?
We have to tune in to our feminine intuition and ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Strip away all of the expectations of society and family and man and whatever and just say, what do I love? What gives me life and makes me feel good? Then do it. It will feed you. You can’t doubt it, just do it. I am evidence of that, you know?
Jah9’s latest album, 9 – produced by Steam Chalice Records and released on VP Records – is out now.
Jess Neill is a freelance copywriter and founder of hummingbird copy.