Saturday, October 11, 2014

Looking For Ways to Use @EmmanuelJal 's 5th Album, The Key, To UnlockDoors for Relocated Youth

My autographed copy of Emmanuel Jal's latest album arrived in the mail on Wednesday, but I didn't have time to listen to it until the last couple of days when I spent a lot of time in Connecticut traffic. Like any album, it takes listening to it several times before I realize what it brings, holistically, to the universe and the world I live. In the first go-around, I knew instantly that I wanted to share it with several young men I work  with who arrived to the U.S. from Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone. Jal's music brings voice to a youth population that is too often overlooked in the U.S. His lyrics offer a much needed perspective about what it means to be uprooted from civil conflict in African nations and learning to get by in the challenging environments of living in U.S. poverty.

Jal's message of peace and sojourning resonates throughout the 12 tracks of The Key and was released in conjunction with his acting debut in The Good Lie. I met the artist while he was filming with Reese Witherspoon and gave him a copy of Trina Paula's Hope For the Flowers. He gave me a copy of War Child, his memoir, and I've shared it with high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students.

In summary, the soul of Emmanuel Jal is thick and heavy, yet it is also very light. I only talked with him once, but in that short time I recognized the depth of his experiences because they paralleled so many of the stories I've learned from my work in refugee communities. Jal brings hope to a complicated world, especially as it is experiences the darkness that some human beings bring onto their fellow mankind.

Several lyrics resonated with what I've learned from working with refugee populations. In The Key, Jal sings,
Now on no sole [person] shall take me for a fool.                                                                   
Kuodah roda entaah (I'm pushing myself) sharpening up my tools.                                     
It's never too late to try to go to school.                                                                                 
Education to me is me Mother and Father.                                                                            
Words inside these books speaks to me,                                                                                 
When I read I get lost into another world.                                                                            
And I find things that calm me and soothe my soul.                                                        
The essence of all of it is like priceless gold.                                        
Ooh Waguar, hmmm, Bah lah dictor, hmmm  
[I'm going to learn how to read and write, I will be a doctor]                                                                                                                
Bah lah Scientist hmmmm Teach or a Professor hmmmm
The song speaks to any young man or woman brought to the U.S. and who seeks direction. It reminded me of scholarship t-shirts we made in Kentucky to raise money to send several to college - Again, "Education is our mother and father." Jal raps positively about the need for drive, direction, sharing one's story, and taking interest in the world. This is a message worth singing about.

The album blends Sudanese roots, survival of tragic warfare in Sudan, musical fortunes, and a delivery of optimism for the next generation. His inclusion of the the African Children's Choir from Uganda brought greater depth to many tracks.

As Jal's acknowledgements describe, his 'Mum Angelina Nyakong' planted many seeds of positivity in him. For this, we all should be thankful. Emmanuel Jal is making music for many, most of whom he'll never meet or know. Still, the contribution of this album makes the mentoring I do for young men and women who relocated to the United States a little easier. We now have Emmanuel Jal's music and book to discuss. And I'm waiting for The Good Lie to finally be released in Connecticut, so that can be added to the repertoire.

I hope to one day meet the artist again. He has provided the world with The Key. Now, it must be used to open new doors.

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