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