Emmanuel Jal was born 29 years ago in Sudan. The first time I heard anything by him was on the 2005 compilation "Help - A day in the life", released to raise money for children affected by war. His song "Gua" was included, fitting, seeing as Jal himself was a warchild. He was conscripted into the rebel Sudanese army at age 7 after the killing of his mother, but managed to flee with about 400 others some 5 years later. Only about 20 of them survived their tortured journey during which he almost resorted to cannbalism. He was then rescued by British Aid worker, Emma McCune, though she was tragically killed in a car crash months later.
"Warchild" is his new CD and is heavily influenced by his life experiences; pain, death, fear, but above all, hope and love which he ascribes to "The love I bring/representing the King of kings" on "No bling" with spoken
lyrics finding him turning down the prerequisite Hos, b**ches and bling needed to sell records, set to tribal sounding percussion, a stripped back groovy bassline, faint Sudanese/Arab influences, and choir-like harmonies. This is the sound for much of the CD. He even declares that he "Aint the best rapper, Lord knows I cant sing" which may be true, but his delivery is still captivating, raw and real sounding.
Opening is the title track "Warchild" in which he states he believes he survived for a reason, to tell his story, to touch lives. Haunting harmonies juxtaposed against tribal beats and sporadic bursts of gunfire-like percussion and a chanted chorus. The shockingly titled "Vagina" is actually a cry from a woman being raped, in this case, the woman represents Africa, and her rapists? The West, taking all her resources.
Tha haunting "Hai" finds him decrying the fate of the black man all over the world (stopped by police, treated like criminals, treated as universal last class citizens). He speaks in English and his native Nuer. Lovely strummed guitars and additional rap from some female. This song is simply beautiful!
"Ninth ward" samples a few lines from "House of the rising sun" by The Animals to great effect, a look at the state of things in America. The guitar driven "Many rivers to cross" samples the Jimmy Cliff song of the same title. Closing is "Emma", a tribute to his rescuer Emma McCune. "What would I be if Emma never rescued me" goes the chorus, against a Rock guitar-driven backdrop.
This is such an intense album, not for those who are easily put off by the Christian message as well as issues other than "shaking that booty" (in fact, "Skirt too short" takes a comic dig at revealing clothing and pop culture), but for those wanting more, this is it.