Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Very few people in the world have the same credibility and vantage point as a musician speaking out against an issue as Emmanuel Jal. Having lived through being forced to fight as a child soldier in Sudan and Ethiopia at a young age, he has dedicated his life to helping the suffering people of Sudan. The charity he founded-Gua Africa-seeks to build schools for former child soldiers to help rebuild their lives. I had the honor of speaking with Emmanuel while he was passing through NY on his international tour promoting his album and documentary about his life, War Child:
The Afrobeat Blog: When did you first listen to hip-hop?
Emmanuel Jal: It was in kenya on kenyan television and the radio station, and guys bringing in tapes to play. The first music I listened to was Tupac in the old days. I used to think they're kenyans, it took me a while to realize they're not kenyans, they're americans.
The Afrobeat Blog: How did it relate to the music of your upbringing?
Emmanuel Jal: The things they used to talk about is what I wanted to listen to. Talking about being chased by police, drugs in the community, It was like they were communicating, and that made me interested in it.
The Afrobeat Blog: Who did you listen to then and now?
Emmanuel Jal: Biggie, Lost Boys, Ice Cube, Public Enemy. Now I listen Nas, I listen to anybody, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, I listen to all of them, because I'm still learning the music. I'm still developing my style, my lyrics, but at the same time I'd like to maintain my dignity.
The Afrobeat Blog: What do you think of American hip-hop, what would you like to see American hip-hop be that it isn't?
Emmanuel Jal: Let's be fair, I don't blame the American hip-hop artists. It's the record companies that are pushing products that are not constructive to the community. You can also go to the movies, there are a lot of conscious movies that are put down, they're not allowed to come out, they're oppressed. MTV won't play anything that doesn't have naked women, or half-naked women. Anything that has violence or sex they love it. Violence and sex sells. But the thing is, we have to think about the children, because the children then think, 'ok this is how the world is supposed to be.'
The Afrobeat Blog: What motivated you to single out 50 Cent on your latest album?
Emmanuel Jal: I took a shortcut picking 50 cent because in this generation 50 Cent is the top. Today, everywhere you go every kid wants to be like 50. So I say to him, 'Look man, you gotta be careful, a lot of kids look up to you. You can make a lot of money but you're going to do a lot of damage to these young peoples' lives.'
The Afrobeat Blog: What other African musicians inspire you?
Emmanuel Jal: K'Naan, Dada J, theres a lot of hip-hop musicians in Africa.
The Afrobeat Blog: How do you use your music to deal with all you've been through?
Emmanuel Jal: Music is a form of therapy for me. Music is the only thing that lets you speak your mind, your soul, your emotions, and influences you directly without you knowing it. So what I've found about music is it makes me happy, the feeling it gives me now.
The Afrobeat Blog: Do you feel a responsibility, or a calling, to use your music to effect change and get across an important message?
Emmanuel Jal: The way I look at, I'm writing down history. I'm bringing what happened in my life to the international community. I feel responsible, I'm like the voice of those communities. At the moment, what I have in mind, my experiences they go and they tell my story.
The Afrobeat Blog: As someone who's been negatively effected by a serious problem facing the world that's largely overlooked, do you feel more musicians should use their platforms as musicians to draw attention to the world's problems?
Emmanuel Jal: Musicians should think and reason because we're in a time of crisis. We're in a time of economic crisis, we're in time of global warming, to get people aware of what's happening, the shortcut is music. We gotta inform people, music can help pass informational messages easily. It's time for us to talk about issues affecting our nations.
Emmanuel Jal: I believe I've survived to tell my story to touch lives. If you're a musician, you're an emotional leader. If you're an entertainer, an actor, you're an emotional leader. You make people laugh, people are stressed, they're looking for who will make them laugh, who will make them dance, and what do they have to say? Whatever you tell them they'll take. If you tell them, 'Fuck you fuck you,' they'll scream, 'Fuck you, fuck you.' And that's what they're gonna do. If you say, 'Smoke weed till I die,' they'll say, 'I smoke weed til I die.'
The Afrobeat Blog: Do you feel a responsibility to talk about some of your most shocking and painful experiences in order to induce a reaction from people and inspire them to act?
Emmanuel Jal: It just comes out natural, the way I tell it, I'm writing down history I'm telling a story. It's not about getting them emotional it's about telling the truth. This is what happened. In one song I say I was tempted to eat the rotten flesh of my comrades, because I was starving with nothing to eat. That's a situation I've lived.
Emmanuel Jal: I have no choice. I had no childhood. I had no family to take me to school, pay my school fees, play video games, play football, have a life, get christmas gifts. I didn't have that. My childhood has been stolen. The only thing I have is to talk about what happened to me, to spread the voice of those kids that have none. My country is still at war, people are still dying. I'm in America sleeping at a 5-star hotel, but the only thing I can do is talk about my story to give hope to people who are investing in Sudan. an aid worker invested in me, Emma McCune, and here I am today honoring her. I wrote a song about her. Now I'm in a campaign to build a school in her name where I only eat one meal a day until I raise that money. I'm at day 75.
The Afrobeat Blog: Are you hopeful with Obama coming into office, America will finally do something to stop the violence in Sudan?
Emmanuel Jal: The problem with us human beings is we rely on someone else. Obama being the president can inspire to achieve things. I'm not going to rely on Obama to make things happen. I'm pushing for the people because only people will make things happen. If he gets 1million people demand peace in Darfur, it will happen overnight. This is a democratic country. There is an economic crisis in America, so we cannot depend on Obama to solve our problems. Anyone who relies on Obama to solve anything for you, is going to be depressed.
The Afrobeat Blog: What can people do to make a difference in Sudan?
Emmanuel Jal: The best investment now, is investment in someone. If someone wants to give aid to Sudan, buy the tools for success and educate them. Don't just leave them crippled and dependent. Build schools. The charity i have is concentrating on schools because when you build schools, you send a message. Out of every 5 kids who go to school in Sudan, one finish primary school. And they don't go to secondary school. The rate of kids growing up and finishing school is very low.
Emmanuel Jal: We have environmental issues. We need farmers to plant more crops. We need to teach people about the climate and how it's changing. and how to prepare and how they can participate in taking care of the earth. We need to build schools in the refugee camps so when they go home, they can make it.
Posted by Marc Amigone at 4:41 PM