the beautiful struggle of Lady Jay (Mix 1)

by Sionne Rameah Neely, Ph.D.

lady jay at soundcheck before the @kaesun show, taverna tropicana / 5 MAY 2012

Like it or not, Lady Jay is all rum and coke. Sweet like pure sugar with a heaping side of suckerpunch. Equal parts love and war. If you don’t believe it, peep the Twitter game by alter-ego PurpleNasty Oblivial aka @ladyjaywah.

Making a silly face, she passes a hand over her mostly shaven head, braided bun on top and shares, “I’m a very aggressive person. My anger is not nice. But at the same time, I know how to make people smile or laugh. The extreme way of me being happy and nice is how extreme I am when I am angry.”

Her sound is like that too. A haunting ebb and flow both bold and unassuming. A scratchy sultry sound textured with the bright patterns of life’s ups and downs. Lady Jay will be the first to admit that she’s a work in progress – an almost 22-year old woman finding her way and getting grown.

The young singer has crossed a few barbwire fences to get here and she’s got the scars to prove it.

Long story short: girl moves from U.S. back home to Ghana for boy – family not too happy about it  – girl and boy end badly – family not too happy about it – girl struggles to make it alone, goes broke + homeless.

Girl finds home in music and is rebuilding from the bottom up.

Lady Jay muses, “I did anger management for about two years but it didn’t work. I have to learn myself. Nobody can teach me.”

Lately, Lady’s been stitching herself together through music. Becoming anew by singing and writing. She adds, “For now, what makes me is my battles, fighting and recovery. Recovery is resistance to fail – that’s where I am now – but at the same time, I’m still very vulnerable.”

As the princess of Panji Anoff’s Pidgen Music – that eclectic camp of music misfits that includes King Ayisoba, FOKN BOIS (Wanlov the Kubolor + M3NSA), Sankwas Bois and Yaa Pono – Lady has the space to spread her wings. Her Afro-posh punk style mirrors her multiple personalities – at once she’s coquettish and innocent, the next crackerjack funny and playful, then bashful and pensive, next fast and furious. Always lovely and raw.

These moods swing through her melodies, songs she’s been mixing in the kitchen with Sewor Okudzeto of A.R.T. (African Relaxation Techniques). Lady Jay’s part of a special mainstay of artists who perform at our shows. She’s sincere about evolving her craft, always ready to perform and down for whatever. Over the last year, her acoustic sets with Sewor have built a cult following in Accra. She’s also known to flip an acoustic remix of Amy Winehouse or Frank Ocean if you should be so lucky.

Right now, two of Lady’s tracks are doing the ring shout in my head.

“Black is Beautiful” is soft and pliable like running water or limp limbs. It’s full of sun and sadness, a glow-in-the-dark moon poked open by pinholes.

She beckons us closer: See for yourself. See for yourself. My Black is beautiful. I shine so bright I don’t need light. Laady Jay Waaah.

It makes me nostalgic for Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” It’s the kind of song that makes you want to cry. You ache to release something damp, dark and deep down that you weren’t even aware was there in the first place. Not because you are in pain but because you feel good. You listen and long to cry. It feels just like going out to dance in the rain.

Mi Do Wo” (I love you in Fante) sounds like the clinging clutter of moments after the bomb has gone off. You stand in the rubble of wrecked love and heartbreak, stunned and silent. Lady’s voice is stained with the sticky icky pangs of sacrifice, of a right love gone wrong. But her loyalty is stuck in the gutter, her heart on park for someone called Nana Yaw.

Lady Jay pumps a fist in her palm, “I’ve got to blow up by the end of the year, you know?” Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. She’s working on music and video projects with azonto craze producer, E.L. And The African Woman’s Development Fund selected her to write and record their International Women’s Day anthem – “African Woman (I Will Succeed)” – the remix with Sena Dagadu (prod. by Irie Maffia’s ELO) is a backbender, mind you.

All this without even releasing a mixtape.

I ask her, how would you introduce who and where Lady Jay is now?

She pauses slightly then answers. “Hi, I’m Lady Jay and I’m entangled.” (pause)
“Courageously twisted.” The singer shrugs her shoulders, “I’m just growing with it.”

READ PART TWO

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[The Dame's Opus 22]: Words by Lady Jay

As told to Sionne Neely, Ph.D.

LADY JAY PERFORMS AT LA PAILLOTE TAKPEKPE / APRIL 2012

growing up in ghana / london town is calling
My name is Lady Nancy Jay. I was born in Tema [just outside Accra]. My father’s a seaman. Since he was always at sea, I grew up with my mum who was an artist and teacher.

My parents have their own ideas about what a child should grow up to be. Those are normally that you be a doctor or an engineer. But I love singing. I sing every chance I get. My sisters are not rebellious like me. My second older sister can sing way better than me. She’s a nurse now. She wasn’t interested in doing the singing thing.

LADY JAY CLOWNS AROUND WITH EFYA

I’ve known Jane [@EFYA_Nokturnal] since I was 6. She was in Class Three and I was in Class One. Me and Jane, we used to sing at Assemblies of God.

I was back and forth between London from late ’99. My father was living there. I remember going to Aburi Girls and they cut all my hair off. My hair was long and I would do these different styles. It was traumatizing. Man, Aburi Girls…they didn’t understand that I had a British accent. It just pissed them off. That a Black girl just like them would have this accent. Here, they don’t even know what being Ghanaian is. The girls think it’s weaves.

In 2006, right before we graduated secondary school in London, my friends got murdered. We were about twelve in a group – Turkish, Kurdish, Jamaican, Ghanaian and Nigerian. It was cool cool. Then Jamie and Voko were pushed in front of a train. Yemmasi killed himself. Ikey got stabbed. Henry got beaten to death. My parents were scared so I came back to Ghana.

LADY JAY SINGS, @ACCRADOTALT LAWN JAM / JAN. 2012

boston public / states of sneaker freak
In 2007, my British secondary school GEC was not good enough for American colleges. So they asked me to do junior and senior year again [at a Boston high school]. It was different because I was pure London. When I walked down the street they could tell I wasn’t from there. I wasn’t one of them. The first day of high school I was in a tracksuit and matching hoodie. Yes, I was a tomboy. Hardcore. Think about any Nike trainers. Think of it! Me, I’m  a sneaker freak.

LADY JAY AT IND!E FUSE / DEC. 2011

$98 rent in idaho /i was swagging
In 2009, the Latterday Saints Church [where I was a member] helped me to pay for college [full scholarship] in Idaho. Rugsburg is very small – you can walk from one end of the town to the other. I was the most modest, the coolest girl you’d ever meet. I’d cook for my friends every Sunday after church and I would do some fancy stuff. Me, I’m a good cook. I love to cook. I like to create things that people have not even imagined. That is what I used to do.

I love Idaho. It’s peaceful. There are no skyscrapers destroying the environment. It is so natural – the mountains, sand dunes, waterfalls. I started doing cool things I said I’d never do – lawnboarding, rockclimbing, wall grafting. I want to go back because I felt so connected to God and I felt I was living a life that was true.  I want to live in Idaho one day.

love + death
I used to be very attracted to only light-skinned guys. All my life. If you’re not mixed race, I won’t even look your way! I just thought they were more beautiful. Honestly. That was before now.

Two years after I go to Boston, my boyfriend in Ghana starts bugging out. I hear he’s been misbehaving. I’m like, “Baby, why you doing this to me now?!” He scrambled his way [back] into my life. Now the pressurizing started. “You have to come to Ghana, come soon.” So I had to put a stop to everything I was doing – put everything on park. I move back to Ghana for him. I came to Ghana when I wasn’t supposed to for him. Now we had this little dispute cuz he likes to flirt a lot. And he has this group of girlfriends around him all the time. But he felt happy around them. And me, if you’re happy I’m not gonna stress you.

But I knew my boy oh. I had loved him and I had loved him for that long…five years. So, I knew my boy and my boy was changing. I knew my boy and my boy was changed. When I found out, I tried to act hardcore. No matter how hard you are, just one boy can mess you up! It hit me like a train…

By this time, I was so bitter and hurt and betrayed by everything. Even the leaves. I felt the leaves had betrayed me. I hit rock bottom. I wanted to die.

But I didn’t die. I lived. Can you imagine, all of that turmoil over some stupid idiot? My father bore and kicked me out because I wasn’t supposed to come to Ghana yet. I went to live with my aunt in Kumasi who said, “What do you want to do?” Me, I like to sing. She said, “Well, start using your voice for something.”

just like music
Bra Kevin was the first person who recorded me in my life! Back then I used to rap. With rap, you’re always thinking here [points to head] but two times faster. Me, I’m lazy. I don’t like too much of a process.

I live and breathe music. I turned to music when I felt I had nobody. Me, I take things differently. I’m trying to see things from a lot of corners. With writing – [the inspiration] is a moment’s notice – it comes and goes. BOOM! It’s here and it blends with whatever memories are popping up in my head.

We are not underground artists. Me, I was on TV3 and they don’t know oh! That is how they describe we. Just because we are different. But Ghana, be afraid…

stretching the now
I didn’t have a place to stay. I was homeless. Physically but also emotionally. I had been hurt so badly and felt I was alone. I cried so much all the time. I’d find someone to unleash some anger on. Panji saved me. But I would still carry myself outside like I was having fun. But I was dying. I even died. The Lady I knew died. She was gone and something else came.

Sometimes, I wish I was the old me. I’m in a stage in my life where I am struggling very hard. But I’ve come a long way and I’m not going to give up. I’ve been to Nigeria more than ten times! I’ve been to South Africa, Mali – Timbuktu, how many of you have been to Timbuktu?! Right now, the way I see life is mind-blowing. How are we even living? How are we breathing, how are we talking? Why are we in existence? It’s amazing! There must be something.

@ladyjaywah / www.facebook.com/LadyNancyJay

READ PART ONE

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*Please note the name of the song is “Interlude” not “Can’t Believe” as indicated in the video.