Nicole D. Sconiers writes about Jaha Zainabu on July 16, 2002:
In the Living Room with Jaha Zainabu
“I live for a living.”
That’s Jaha Zainabu’s mantra for success. With so many spoken word artists living for money or glory or a coveted spot on “Def Poetry Jam,” it’s refreshing to find an unjaded soul dedicated to keeping it real.
The poetic princess recently hosted an intimate gathering at the newly opened Brixx Koffee on Wilshire. Over the din of traffic whizzing by on the boulevard, Jaha joked that she wanted a living room vibe, but not in her living room. Jaha is no stranger to playing big venues and sharing the stage, meat market style, with many poets. This night, however, the poised performer simply wanted a cozy locale where she could converse with the crowd in between poems and field questions about her work. As we sat on wooden bleachers and watched Jaha doing her thing on stage against the backdrop of a mock fireplace, throw rug and book shelves built into the walls, we truly felt at home with her.
Jaha opened the show by thanking the Most High for continually blessing her. She’s a spiritual sister, but doesn’t “set trip” with religion. “I see God in everybody,” she says. Jaha is a walking goddess; an ethereal everywoman who draws you into her aura and anoints you with her words. When she blows, you feel that someone else understands your angst-and also has your back.
Jaha sings; she got jokes and she’s a master story teller. She recounted the gang-related murder of a young boy in her ’hood and also the poignant tale of a strung out mother whose seven-year-old son sold drugs for her. That poem, “Dry Sheets,” was written in a Laundromat, “would you believe/one out in the Valley on Magnolia and Cahuenga.”
She still manages to keep her head up despite student loan woes, being a thirtysomething woman in a youth-driven, testosterone-fueled market, and having motherhood force her out of a favorite pair of jeans: “these jeans will not ever kiss these lips or hug these cheeks again/and the beauty, finally, is that I don’t want them anymore/they are not quite big enough to hold the woman I am today.”
The woman Jaha is today came a long way from the tall kid with the deep voice who hated to sing because of the extra bass in her vocal chords. She’s been blessing the mic for three years, and recently dropped a new CD “Unmasked.” The earthy performance artist got her start at a divey bookstore in Long Beach, but now features at venues across the country. When Jaha first got into the game, she wondered why the lives of poets and artists seem to be extra laden with problems. She now realizes that wordsmiths endure so many woes “because we tell it.”
“Whatever you’re going through, own it. I’ve spent years not owning anything,” she testifies in her trademark tell-it-like-it-is style. Jaha now believes that she has a responsibility, particularly to younger females, to touch lives with her words and help others reconnect to what’s real. She’s also very humble about her talent, overwhelmed to have the respect of her mic-ripping peers. She let Sekou, who was in the room, end the showcase with his crowd-pleaser about beige Jeep Grand Cherokees. The unpretentious diva also shouted out Toby and Thea for coming to her set to show love.
As Jaha’s words washed over the walls like a baptism, it was evident that this metaphoric missionary is out the box with her poetry, and can truly turn any venue into a “living” room.
The Brixx Koffee, owned and operated by Kathy and Akil, is located at 5466 Wilshire Boulevard and features open mic poetry every Tuesday night from midnight to 2 a.m. Visit their website: www.thebrixx.com.
Nicole’s Website: www.california-schemin.com
Words and Flow by . . . . . . . Jaha Zainabu
Sound Production by . . . . . . . Bili Redd (Middle Passage Productions )
Interface Design and Programming by . . . . . . . Bryan Wilhite