Monday, 2 July 2012

Emmanuel Jal - Savvy Peace Soldier...

Last night I was privileged to attend the Get the Youth Talking event in Camden, organised by a handful of charities linked together by the extraordinary and charismatic singer Emmanuel Jal. The evening was effectively in four parts commencing with a lively panel discussion on how to engage the far flung young and exiled Sudanese to work together to stimulate peace in their troubled land. As well as Emmanuel the contributors included representatives from Amnesty International (student section) and Jeremy Gilley from Peace One Day.

The video above can only give some idea of the fragile situation in Sudan since South Sudan declared independence last year on 9th July, hence the mobilisation to engineer the rallies outside embassies on the anniversary in one week's time on Monday. The panel and audience discussions were revealing, encouraging and sought to gain positive ground with insightful and well informed views.

Part two of the evening was spend enjoying East African cuisine from one of the sponsors, restaurateurs Abyssinia, and very splendid it was too!

Before the host took to the stage the seating was cleared away and Congolese poet JouJou Bola painted a moving picture of reality in African countries plundered for their conflict minerals.

One of the first surprises was to see a full band in action behind Emmanuel rather than the usual decks and tracks accompaniment. Emmanuel appeared at the back of the venue, clambered through the expectant audience bounced and onto stage before proceeding to lead the band through a seriously energetic performance. The set list comprised a selection picked mainly from War Child and his forthcoming CD, See Me Mama, the latter scheduled for an August release.

Throughout the set high energy levels were maintained, the band cooked, the drummer being the star player, and everyone couldn't help dancing to the groove. It was exuberant, colourful, moving and anthemic with the musical direction tipping a big nod towards reggae rather than solely hip-hop or rap. To Emmanuel's surprise and delight the audience was mainly Sudanese, whereas he usually plays to predominantly European or American punters.

After the show I was able to grab a few moments with him and he stressed the We Want Peace movement is an ongoing initiative despite the immediate focus on the worldwide rallies on July 9th and the follow up concert in South Sudan linking in with the Peace One Day 2012 on 21st September. Emmanuel is known worldwide as an activist, he now wants to mobilise people with the same vision as 'Peace Soldiers'. The downside is that all this activism is mainly self financed which has prompted him to start ringfencing his music work, his own label Gatwitch Records has been formed to consolidate this.

See Me Mama will be his fourth full CD album, he categorised his previous work as follows:
  1. Gua (2005) - Expression to God, giving thanks
  2. Ceasefire (2005) - exactly that (also a collaboration across religious divides)
  3. Warchild (2008) - telling my story and developing as an artist
Undoubtedly War Child is his best known album as that was created once sufficient time and healing had elapsed for his remarkable story to be revealed, the song Forced to Sin effectively encapsulating it in a deeply moving, hip hop elegy. As well as the radio friendly title track another song about his late rescuer, Emma McCune, received recognition as it was introduced at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday gig by kindred spirit, non other than the venerable Peter Gabriel.

Emmanuel's music deserves much more commercial success, one of the down sides of achieving almost cult status as an outspoken activist is that does not translate into sales. However, listening to the advance copy of the new CD on the way back the move toward the sing-along, anthemic style is a potential winner along with the grooves and unique voice. Furthermore, the growing interest from his fellow countryfolk may mean he can overcome the challenge of being a prophet in his own land...

Other important Emmanuel Jal links to check out:
Gua Africa
Lose to Win
Blog post on We Want Peace video


Hugh said...

Nice post Peter. Saw most of the War Child movie - hard to take in the conditions under which so many millions live. Hugh. PS looking fwd to reading the book.

sharpies said...

I second that, it's really good to read about this, Peter...

Dr Mike and his organisation were involved in the Sudan peace talks. I'm wondering if he knows about this, I will ask him!

Best wishes, Jennie

Peter Banks said...

Thanks Hugh, yes, as mentioned, a compelling and moving film, not easy to watch...

And thanks Jennie, too! Yes, would be intrigued to see how Emmanuel's 'We Want Peace' efforts are reaching folk like Dr Mike.

Best, PB