Album Review: Jah 9 – Note to Self [VP Records; March 2020]

Janine Cunningham, better known as Jah9, has had a meteoric rise since her first album – New Name – came out in 2013. On Note to Self, her newly-released fourth album, she co-produces the entire project and stamps her authority all over it. Indeed, she has described this new body of work as a “self-thesis”.

“I’m going to be okay,” she sings on ‘Note to Self (okay) [feat. Chronixx]’ and it rubs off on the listener – all is going to be well. Like a blessing or exhortation, Jah9 wants to expel any fear and anxiety that may be present in the world. This is something for us to cling to, to embrace, during the present lockdown in which the planet is suffering so grievously.

‘Field Trip’ is a glorious piece of breezy jazzy dub for which Jah9 has become famous for. It flows like a river and leaves the listener in a pleasantly upbeat mood. Again, like the other tunes on Note to Self it seeks to free us. “Can you feel it?” she sings out loud, repeatedly as if the field trip she went on helped her to find herself and she wants us to do the same. This is part of the magic of her music: in her spiritual freedom and discipline she seeks to lead by example. If only today’s world leaders showed a fraction of this lady’s wisdom! My sole criticism of the album is that perhaps it is a tad too long. A shorter body of work might have been easier to digest. But really you cannot get away from the feel-good factor here.

On ‘The Reflection’, a one-minute piece, she speaks in place of singing or rapping, giving thanks for all those who she holds dear: “My teachers, my students…” To the backing of a drum beat. To this listener there is a lineage from Bob Marley straight down to Jah9. She, like him, is rarely unsure of herself.

Nowhere on Note to Self is this more evident than on ‘In the Beginning’ where she sings: “to cast the seeds of my imagination and know with certainty that fruit is on the way…” Now she can stop – like the rest of the world currently in lockdown – and begin to reap her crop. Astute as ever, Jah9’s star can only get brighter.