The world renowned South Sudanese performer and peace activist Emmanuel Jal has released his sixth album, “Naath” a joint project with his talented sister, Nyaruach.
Jal, who is now a resident of Canada, was in Nairobi last week to formally launch the 14-track album that has already been nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2019 Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys.
“Since I lived in Kenya and went to school here, I always feel comfortable in Nairobi, I sleep and eat well,” said Jal in an interview.
“Naath” is an Afrobeat infused album with the two artists drawing on the unique sounds of their country.
He said the album is a reflection of the achievements of his ancestors as opposed to the divisions that people sow in the world today.
South Sudan voices
“This album brings the voices of South Sudanese to keep hope alive in the midst of the upheavals that we continue to face,” says Jal.
“When I was in Juba I was attacked and beaten by people who said they didn’t like my activism and so I moved to Toronto because it wasn’t safe for me anymore.”
According to him, the new album reflects greater African influence than his previous recordings and ‘brings the village into contemporary Afro beat and hip hop’.
“There is authentic sounds from my roots but there are also other influences from East African sounds and even Congolese guitar rhythms,” says Jal.
Unlike his other recordings that have drawn on his background as a former child soldier and the conflict in South Sudan, the new album by Jal and Nyaruach reflects the resilience and rich culture of their identity through vibrant music.
“My previous songs have been about anger, justice, and other socio-political campaigns but now I am writing about other experiences,” says Jal.
He points to a romantic song like “More Power” about a man who unsuccessfully tries to impress a woman with his dance moves.
Kenyan producer Jesse Bikundu, who is well known for working with fusion artists like Makadem, produced most of the songs on the album.
From his start in life as a child soldier in South Sudan during the civil war in the 1980s, Jal has overcome huge personal struggles to become a successful recording artist and peace ambassador.
“Your history is what gives you the direction to go forward, embracing my past and sharing these experiences is an essential part of my music, “ says Jal.
“Its unbelievable, I would probably be dead now or still carrying a gun.”
His sister Nyaruach was also born in South Sudan at a similar time but was separated from her family, including Jal, at the age of four. She witnessed her family members killed and was a victim of rape.
“Her voice is different and when you hear her solo songs on the album you can feel the authentic, village quality in her voice. Nyaruach just discovered music and found that she has a voice that express the pain of rape, starvation, watching her friends die, all those experiences play back in her head and she is able to lose herself in the music,” says Jal.
Brother and sister
Brother and sister reunited in Nairobi in 2004 and the following year recorded the song “Gua” (peace) which launched Jal’s international career.
Besides the release of six studio albums, including “Naath”, Emmanuel Jal has performed at huge international shows like the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday concert and the One Concert for the Dalai Lama.
He has collaborated with renowned artists like Lauryn Hill, Peter Gabriel, Nelly Furtado, Nile Rodgers and Alicia Keys.
Drawing on his personal experiences and background, Jal has spoken on reconciliation and peace at events like TED Global, the UN, and the US Congress.
A documentary on his life “Warchild” was released in 2008 winning 12 film festival awards worldwide.
Jal and Nyaruach have now released their first album together led by the first single “Ti Chuong” whose video was shot in Kenya.
“This song says you have a right to express yourself, whatever it is that is bothering you, speak out!” explains Jal.