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IN THIS ISSUE
MUSIC TEGAN & SARA
FILM EVAN PROSOFSKY
PHOTO SPREAD 2 PINK FLAMINGOS
Words Omar Reyes
Words Paul Roots
Photos Ashley Champagne
ARTS JOSH KEYES
MUSIC CADENCE WEAPON
CARES (COVER) EMMANUEL JAL
Words Glen Leavitt
Words Omar Reyes
Words Kris Samraj
MUSIC CHRISTIAN HANSEN
PHOTO SPREAD 1 COLOUR ME BAD
Words Brandon Webber
Photos Harvey Miedreich
ON THE COVER EMMANUEL JAL PHOTO ASHLEY CHAMPAGNE
georgie PUBLISHERS Georgie Magazine Inc. EDITOR IN CHIEF Georgie CREATIVE DIRECTOR Nathan Marshall PHOTO EDITOR Ashley Champagne PHOTOGRAPHERS/ILLUSTRATORS/DESIGNERS Ashley Champagne, Lindsey Byrnes, Seth Hardie, Nathan Marshall, Harvey Miedreich, Gordon Montgomery, Neil Mota WRITERS Glen Leavitt, Omar Reyes, Paul Roots, Kris Samraj, Brandon Webber COPY EDITOR Jude Zuppiger SPECIAL THANKS A big thanks to Margo Klimowicz (muchas gracias), Kira Faiazza, Linda (Barber Ha), MODE Models, Amin & Salma Hussein, Sadeeq Hudda INQUIRIES email@example.com ADVERTISING firstname.lastname@example.org www.heygeorgie.com Copyright ÂŠ 2013 Georgie Magazine Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------The views expressed in these pages are not necessarily shared by the publishers.
Ellen wasted no time when it “Our next guests are identical twin earned their first Grammy nomination. ‘em so much. Please welcome, the
came to introductions: sisters from Canada who just Here to perform “Closer”. I love i n c r e d i b l e Te g a n a n d S a r a ! ”
TEGAN + SARA WO R D S O M A R R E Y E S PHOTOGRAPHY LINDSEY BYRNES L A YO U T N A T H A N M A R S H A L L
We o b v i o u s l y a re a w a re of the fact that certain people may not like the sound of this album, but in our minds curtailing o u r a m b i t i o n s wo u l d h ave been disingenuous...
nd like that, approximately four million viewers of the Ellen DeGeneres Show were introduced to the emotional depth, infectious melodies and oh-so-satisfying harmonies of one of our nations most beloved musical acts. Tegan and Sara admit on their website that being on Ellen for the first time was a “…real dream come true.” For a career spanning over a decade, this type of exposure seems more than justified. With their recent album, Heartthrob, debuting at number three on the Billboard 200 and their lead single, “Closer”, becoming certified Gold in Canada, there is little question of where things might be heading in the future. In my email interview with Sara Quin, I asked her how they remain rooted as they stand on the precipice of taking things to the “next level”. She responds, “I think ‘fame’ is a strange side effect of success and I could be wrong but I do think there are ways to avoid its trappings. I don’t know that we were/are doing it consciously, but we’ve maintained all of our friendships from middle school and generally pride ourselves on being ‘normal’! I see us as artists but also as business owners and my goal is to just be as down to earth as possible, treat people well, and not take all of this too seriously!” If you’ve ever been to one of their concerts, you’ll know that one of their endearing trademarks is the achingly honest and witty banter they share between songs. It’s as if their stage doubles as a bedroom and we’re invited to a slumber party where secrets are divulged and pretenses are left at the door. (If you’re wondering, Sara’s “heartthrobs” while growing up were New Kids on the Block, Jared Leto and Claire Danes.) With the current musical climate that sees musicians shine and fade as quickly as warm weather in Alberta, I wondered what contributed to Tegan and Sara’s longevity. Sara confesses, “I think we realized early on that we needed to keep a strong connection with our audience and create a community that we could nurture but also be supported by as we grew as a band.” The loyalty of this fan base might be put to the test as the familiar edges and rawness of their sound is replaced with a synthy-power-pop glean that Rolling Stone describes
as the “most commercial record of their career.” I asked Sara if there was any hesitation in moving in a new direction when they began work on Heartthrob. She answers, “We obviously are aware of the fact that certain people may not like the sound of this album, but in our minds curtailing our ambitions would have been disingenuous and in a way the antithesis of our band’s motto to date. Sometimes you have to serve yourself as an artist in order to reveal the best stuff!” I’m curious to know, after all these years of being known and identified as “Tegan and Sara”, how they foster and nurture their individual identities. Sara intuitively responds, “Part of us living in different cities and maintaining different social circles was in order to allow for a natural separation from that shared identity. We’ve spent our whole lives navigating this innately special connection – our identical physical identity – and allowing for space to develop and nurture our interior identities has been a must.” With Tegan residing in Vancouver and L.A. while Sara calls Montreal and New York home, you begin to realize how far a separation she’s talking about! Yet, as a rookie dad of twin boys, I’m fascinated by both the closeness and the distance Tegan and Sara seem to balance beautifully. With eagerness I ask her if she has any tips on parenting twins. “Don’t dress them alike! I really love that my parents didn’t emphasize us being ‘twins’. We were just sisters and that made it seem less strange. We were always in different classes and encouraged to develop our own interests regardless of the other’s involvement.” As they move forward with touring and promoting their new album, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are eschewing expectations while at the same time winning new fans. After all, uniformity seems like something they were never comfortable with. What may seem like a departure from the familiar actually turns out to be a natural progression of two maturing artists. Besides, as Sara exclaims, “I think making a metal record would have been more of a departure than Heartthrob!”
JOSH KEYES WO R D S G L E N L E AV I T T
L A YO U T N A T H A N M A R S H A L L
ask Josh Keyes a question about the relationship that humans have with their environment and the importance of balance in that relationship – a recurring theme in Keyes’ work. He presents me with a striking metaphor, the thumbnail of a myth. “A nest of ants living on an apple suspended in space will devour the apple and, having no food or place to stand, will plummet. The ants have no awareness that the apple is what gives the colony room to stand on and food to grow.” Many of Keyes’ paintings are like his answer: vivid, clear, and fantastically metaphorical. Keyes calls them mythological. He
also likes to think of them as “visual puzzles that have no right or wrong solution.” His paintings, filled with images of animals in varying states of harmony and conflict, wandering an eerily posthuman landscape, are like textbook illustrations of an ecological apocalypse which has come and gone. Humans are nowhere to be seen, except in our effects: abandoned cars, graffitied mailboxes, and statues overgrown with weeds. Each highly detailed image is presented on the canvas within a cubic or circular geometrical boundary. The effect is like looking at a core sample of a dream. Josh Keyes is originally from Tacoma, Washington
THE USE OF ANIMALS HAS BEEN A WA Y T O C O M M U N I C A T E I M M E D I A T E LY WITH PEOPLE ON A PSYCHOLOGICAL LEVEL
I F I N D T H A T P E O P L E O F T E N R E L A T E T O A N D E M PA T H I Z E M O R E WITH ANIMALS THAN THEY DO WITH HUMANS… THE HUMAN P R E S E N C E I N M Y WO R K I S T H E V I E W E R ; T H E I R C O N T E M P L AT I O N A N D E X P E R I E N C E C O M P L E T E S T H E WO R K A N D G I V E S I T L I F E
MY VISION HAS ELEMENTS THAT COULD BE I N T E R P R E T E D A S AC T I V I S T
and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University. He is now based in Portland, Oregon – an area of North America he finds particularly inspiring. “I have such a strong love of the weather and landscape here. I also really enjoy reading about the myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans. Many of the stories have led to painting imagery for me. Above all, there is a romantic feeling to this area.” In addition to a general approach inspired by Native American mythology, Keyes’ also finds more specific inspiration for his work in the wildlife that surrounds him: “The majority of images I am working with come directly from my experience of walking in the woods.” Keyes’ interest in folklore and mythology is evident in his use of animals. While the animals themselves are depicted realistically, the settings in which they find themselves are metaphorical or symbolic, and deliberately constructed to provoke thought in the viewer. “For me the use of animals has been a way to communicate immediately with people on a psychological level. I find that people often relate to and empathize more with animals than they do with humans… The human presence in my work is the viewer; their contemplation and experience completes the work and gives it life.” Environmental issues are a major theme in Keyes’ work and in his life, but he is somewhat ambivalent about the interpretation of his work as a form of activism. “My vision has elements that could be interpreted as activist and indeed a few of my paintings were intended to function as a call for action and awareness.” However, he goes on, “It is not my goal to change someone’s mind about a topic because many of the issues I work with do not have clear resolutions or answers. I merely pose a hypothetical situation to contemplate, even if it leans towards one position or another.” When I ask about his view of the artist’s role in general his response is expansive: “The diversity in the art world is enormous, and I don’t feel that artists have a responsibility to do anything other than dream and create and inspire others.
I know many artists who want to have nothing to do with politics or any contemporary issue. They just want to mix color and keep their focus direct and simple, while others carry the activist flag and want to stir things up, provoke, and strive to become a voice of change. Both are valid…” Keyes’ technical interests and thematic concerns often converge in felicitous ways. Many of his paintings depict submersion in water. This is a psychological obsession, but also a technical one. “I always liked thinking of water as the manifestation of the unconscious or subconscious… When I was a child, I helped my parents paint my bedroom as if I was underwater, with waves splashing along the ceiling. When I incorporate a cross-section of water in my paintings I get excited. I love the challenge of depicting the refraction of the object or shark in the water. It gives me permission to have a ‘cubist’ moment in a realist painting.” Similarly, Keyes’ training in drafting has benefitted his paintings by lending them a dreamlike hyper-realistic quality. “I did study mechanical drafting in high school, so maybe those hours spent doing careful pencil work with rulers and a very clean piece of drafting paper had something to do with the precision in my work. I do think the diagrammatic style does lend itself well to the way I want to portray my imagery. The scientific format adds a kind of absolute rationalism that collides, I think seamlessly, with the fantastic imagery.” Keyes’ is humble about the warm reception his work has received over the years, and philosophical about the future. “For me, the definition of success has changed over time. I have been doing roughly about two solo shows a year for the past thirteen years and I am eternally grateful and thankful that they have all been received very well and that the work has gone to good homes. At forty-three I find myself pivoting to an introspective location. There are a number of ideas that have been incubating in my sketchbook for a number of years and I will be working with this new imagery for my next show. Overall... I feel that my zenith in terms of career has streaked farther than I imagined.”
I T I S N OT M Y G OA L TO C H A N G E S O M E O N E ’ S M I N D A B O U T A TO P I C B E C AU S E M A N Y O F T H E I S S U E S I WO R K W I T H D O N OT H AV E C L E A R R E S O L U T I O N S O R A N S W E R S
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The one constant thing about Christian Hansen is He’s changed places (born and raised in Vancouver, Edmonton for university and now living in Toronto). He’s changed bandmates. And on his latest record, C’Mon Arizona, he’s changed his sound. Probably most well known in Edmonton for the album Power Leopard and the track “Cocaine Trade”, Christian Hansen and the Autistics grew a following in Edmonton for having one of the most energetic live shows in the city. However, Hansen didn’t start there. Going to university as a theatre major and playing the occasional show as a singer-songwriter, Hansen dabbled with electronic music on the side. Happy with the way things were shaping up, he formed the Autistics (inspired from a day job working with autistic persons) to play shows. A break came when the band was featured as Band of the Month by Sonic 102.9 and their songs got some radio play. That was 2009. Then came 2010. Hansen and his wife (and musical collaborator), Molly Flood, moved to Toronto and started a recording project in the midst of the Autistics disbanding. “People just wanted different things within the band, and we really wanted to go to Toronto. Edmonton had been so amazing to us, but for myself and Molly, we like adventure. We like living in different cities and we felt it was time for a change.” So the latter part of 2010 was spent going back and forth between their new home in Toronto and Edmonton, where they fi nished the record in a familiar setting. “We work with a great producer named Doug Organ from Edmontone Studio. He’s a well-known guy in the Edmonton music scene. I would call him the silent member of the band. The sound of what was Christian Hansen and the Autistics and now my latest record is really shaped by his work.”
With a fi nished record in hand and a new home to explore, Hansen has spent the better part of a year fi nding his way in Toronto’s music landscape. “We’ve just been here getting the lay of the land, playing as many gigs as we can, and trying to learn how things work here. It’s different in terms of how the music industry works here compared to Edmonton. In any scene or community, it’s just a collection of people and we’ve found the people here to be great. Everyone we’ve had to deal with in terms of the band has been really positive.” As a new act in in a new city, there’s been a slight learning curve for how things work. “Over here there is so much going on all the time. You can hop on transit and go around from venue to venue and check a lot of shows all in one night. It’s something you learn as a musician too – there’s a lot of people just coming in for one set out of two or three. I remember early on playing what I thought was the headlining slot at midnight. When we got there, there were all these people for the second band at 10, and then when our set came, there was no one there. So it took us a while to figure out: it’s about set time. It’s about developing a following who watch for your shows and show up for you.” The abundance of music in the city has been a doubleedged sword. As a musician, Hansen has to work hard to get noticed in the noise and grow a following of fans that consistently come to his shows. On the other hand, as a lover of music, Hansen has really been able to enjoy all the great micro music scenes that a city the size of Toronto can support. “Here, all these weird little scenes can sustain themselves, and I love checking all these different venues and scenes out.
+ M O L LY
As a music listener I listen to As a music listener, I listen to everything: old-school punk rock, tons of hip hop, top forty stuff, jazz, and all the usual indie stuff. I consider myself a songwriter, and I don’t really care about genre or what’s cool. A good song is a good song no matter if it’s metal, electronic or rock.” Moving from a place like Edmonton to somewhere like Toronto can be daunting for anyone. Yet the couple has embraced the challenge of learning their new surroundings. “We’ve been making lots of friends, trying to get out and meet people. It’s been interesting being the new kid on the block for a change. When we got here, I was like, ‘Toronto isn’t that big.’ But now actually having been here for a while and where life takes you, I realize just how big Toronto is. Lots of people complain in Toronto about things like the TTC [Toronto Transit Commission], but we think it’s awesome. We like going out adventuring, fi nding those new spots, getting lost while driving or just walking around.”
Whether it’s the city, or the music in the city, Hansen is the explorer. This open attitude and desire to search out inspiration in his new home is really what defi nes his work as a musician and song-writer. That brings us back to his latest effort, C’Mon Arizona. Compared to earlier work, a person might not pick out all the new details from a fi rst listen; it still has lots of the little hooks and quirky lyrics that Christian is known for. However, on a deeper listen, C’Mon Arizona somehow sounds a little more well-defi ned and mature, particularly when it comes to borrowing the various musical touches from an eclectic mix of genres. Described as a transitional album by Hansen himself, the album is a good reflection of his own personal transition: going solo, moving to Toronto, and baking all those new experiences into his art.
“We like going out
fi nding those new spots”
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EVAN + PROSOFSKY WO R D S PA U L R O O T S PHOTO NEIL MOTA L A YO U T N A T H A N M A R S H A L L
ithin a few minutes of talking to 23-year-
Prosofsky attributes part of his early success to luck. After
old cinematographer Evan Prosofsky, it
he moved to Montreal in 2010, he was asked to be the
becomes clear that he’s a genuine and
director of photography for a music video that director
appreciative talent. He’s shot music videos for artists such
Emily Kai Bock, a close friend of his, was putting together.
as Toro y Moi, Grizzly Bear, Grimes and Cadence Weapon,
That video was “Oblivion” for Canadian artist Grimes and
but he’s flattered by all the attention he’s been receiving
it’s since been viewed over five million times on YouTube.
and modest about his work. Perhaps it’s because he’s
“We had a big celebratory dinner the night it got a million
Canadian, or maybe it’s because of his typical childhood,
views,” laughs Prosofsky. Although it turned out to be one
growing up in Edmonton.
of the defining music moments in 2012, the popularity
It was as a 15-year-old who loved skateboarding with his friends where he found his calling. What happened to him he says is typical of all skateboarders. “It gets to the point
of “Oblivion” was completely unexpected. “I wasn’t enmeshed in that scene just yet. We were kind of naive. We never expected any of it.”
where you want to film skate tricks with friends and make
He readily admits that having a break out video was
skate videos. It’s a natural progression that one of them has
instrumental in setting out his current career path. “At the
to buy a video camera. So, I was the guy that bought the
time, none of us really had any idea what having a huge
video camera.” After researching how to make his videos
video meant for us. But that’s why I have a job now. It’s
more professional and having his dad, a commercial
literally all because of that video, so I’m so thankful for it.”
photographer, help guide, he developed a serious love for
And although he now recognizes the power of YouTube and
Vevo and what that means for the exposure of his work, he
I t ’s h a rd f o r m e t o t a l k a b o u t b e c a u s e i t ’s s u c h a b i g i s s u e r i g h t n o w. F i l m i s dying and ever yone knows it. There are ver y few people who are using it these days.
also feels it has limitations. “So much of a video’s popularity is
a cinematographer who passed away from brain cancer
about the cultural currency that the artist already has. I don’t
late last year. Savides worked extensively with Van Sant,
learn anything from the amount of views. It’s hard to take it too
including on the 2002 film “Gerry”, which Prosofsky calls pure
cinema. “It’s a cinematographer’s dream. The definition of a
What sets Prosofsky apart from most others in his profession is that he loves shooting on film. “It’s hard for me to talk about because it’s such a big issue right now. Film is dying and everyone knows it. There are very few people who are using it these days.” When asked why he prefers to shoot on film
cinematographer is telling the story and that is exactly what he does. There’s barely any dialogue. It’s all beautiful, magic hour, expansive, widescreen landscapes. But Savides doesn’t overdo it. It’s a really humble, simply photographed thing. To me, it’s perfect storytelling.”
rather than digital, his answer is instinctual: “On paper it’s got
He mentions the “amazing” Martin de Thurah (James Blake,
more color fidelity than digital. It’s got more dynamic range
David Byrne & St. Vincent) and Roman Gavras (M.I.A) as two
than digital, which means it sees further into the shadows
of the directors he’d love the opportunity to work with. When
and highlights than digital. It’s a real picture, you know. It’s life
asked what artists he’d like to work with, he confesses he’s
hitting film.” Prosofsky’s in good company as even veteran
flexible. “I could do anything. I just really like my job so I don’t
directors such as Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson
care who I work with.” I throw out Justin Bieber. “That would be
and Quentin Tarantino have all publicly criticized digital
awesome,” Prosofsky says
cinematography. “For me, the whole process [of film] is just
sincerely. “It would be great to do a pop video – as long as it’s
really beautiful and it’s more real. I like the palette it gives me
and it shows in the images. It’s almost timeless.”
As for what the future holds, well, Prosofsky, who has already
When the conversation veers towards cinema, the passion
produced his own short film entitled “Waterpark”, says he
in Prosofsky’s voice becomes unconcealed. “I could ramble
would love to get into big features. “I still love the experience
on for days about this,” he says. “It comes down to the story.
of going to a theatre and the lights turn off and everyone has
I’m always moved if it’s a good story.” One of Prosofsky’s idols
this shared experience together.” From what I can tell, he’s
includes Gus Van Sant’s long-time collaborator, Harry Savides,
well on his way.
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In Canada, when you begin a conversation about the weather, you are doing more than just talking about temperature and wind-chill factor. You are talking about the intrinsic shared relationship we all have with the elements. It’s a topic that bonds strangers into allies for that brief moment. Perhaps it’s for that reason it seemed natural to begin my phone interview with Rollie Pemberton (also known as Cadence Weapon).
“WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE IN MONTREAL?” I ASK. “It is unbelievably cold. It’s probably the coldest I can remember it ever being, anywhere. It’s like, - 35 or something like -40. It’s brutal.” Of course, the irony in his confession is that even though he no longer lives in Edmonton, he hasn’t been able to escape the freezing tundra.
i love the idea that despite having a record deal, tours around the world, or whatever accolades people want to give you, act like no one has heard of your shit. Not that he has any desire to escape remnants of his hometown. Nor are we willing to let his presence fade from our city. If anything, despite his physical absence, he seems more present than ever. For example, while at a movie theatre, you might have seen him featured in an interview right before the trailers begin. Or you might have caught him on TV performing for the Polaris Music Prize award. Or, if you regularly walk down Jasper Ave, you have probably noticed his words on banners that hang from some of the light posts. So what has he been doing to gain this sort of popularity? For starters, he fulfilled his two-year duty as Edmonton’s Poet Laureate. This not only gave him exposure to people who might not otherwise know him, but it also helped him hone his craft and opened doors to a variety of opportunities. Performing for events like the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver, Canada Day celebrations at the Parliament building in Ottawa, and the Canadian Hip Hop Summit in Toronto have served to elevate his unique brand of music to a national level. Always one to experiment, he collaborated with two other musicians on the score for a Discovery Channel documentary on the Waterton Lakes of Alberta. He also joined other songwriters as they teamed up with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra to put on a show called “Acres of Dreams”. When 2012 finally arrived, Rollie was just getting warmed up. He admits, “This past year was really hype because I was touring a lot. I went to SXSW. From there, I started touring non-stop.” In addition to touring with Japandroids and Liars, he also took a leap by headlining his own tour across North America. Perhaps most notable in 2012 was the release of his highly anticipated album, Hope in Dirt City. I asked Rollie what it felt like to have reached this level of success. He swiftly responded, “I often think of things in a sports metaphor. You can say a coach is successful if his team always makes the playoffs. But you know, not all coaches get to play the Super Bowl. Some coaches don’t get into the Hall of Fame. There are different measures of success.” This inevitably led me to ask where he sees
himself in this metaphor. “I think I’ve reached the Pro Bowl a couple of times, maybe? But you know, I haven’t, I don’t think, won a championship…yet.” If there were an album that could push him a little bit closer to winning the championship, Hope in Dirt City would have to be it. With a hybrid of live sounds, samples and sampling of the live sounds, he explodes with a fury of rhymes and vocal dexterity unseen in previous works. Even though he received positive reviews, including getting short-listed for a Polaris, he admits that his main satisfaction is “…achieving the process that [he] worked on…” and having the final product represent the idea he had from the beginning. Talk of a future album is quickly dodged when he tells me that he’s been recording a lot in Montreal but doesn’t “want to put a name” on what it is. “I don’t want it to be like last time with Georgie and put out an album three years later!” he sheepishly admits. He later told me that he also mentioned in the last article, featured in Georgie Issue 1, that he wanted to put out a book. He’s been toying with the idea of it involving poetry and other forms of creative writing. Even though he’s vague with the description and jokes about how everyone says they’re “working on a book”, he adamantly exclaims that he’s “going to drop it this year for sure!” Rollie exudes confidence without sounding like a braggart. Ever since his 2005 debut album, Breaking Kayfabe, garnered praise from media outlets across North America and Europe, Rollie has had to deal with the tension of being in the spotlight very early on. I asked him what fame has taught him after all these years. With maturity and conviction in his voice he replied, “It’s taught me not to rely on it. This is why I’m still able to make music, why I’m still here, why I can remain humble about things. I always remember this song by this rapper, Ras Kass, and it’s called, “Remain Anonymous”. I love that sentiment. I love the idea that despite having a record deal, tours around the world, or whatever accolades people want to give you, act like no one has heard of your shit.”
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WO R D S K R I S S A M R A J P H O T O S A S H L E Y C H A M PA G N E L A YO U T N A T H A N M A R S H A L L
“I was born in a difficult time,” says Emmanuel Jal. He was also born in a difficult place. Emmanuel Jal was born in South Sudan in 1980. A civil war broke out in 1983, with the fighting continuing until 2011. The decades-long conflict culminated in the division of the former country of Sudan into two new countries – North Sudan and South Sudan. During this span of time, 2,000,000 people died from the civil war and famine. Millions more were displaced from their homes. Jal’s earliest memories are of war. “I experienced war as a child. The situation was violent, running from one place to another and then arriving in Ethiopia, where I became a child soldier,” says Jal, recounting his childhood. His father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to fight for the independence of Southern Sudan. When Jal was seven years old, his mother was killed in the fighting. Jal spent the next few years fighting in the war as a child soldier, a rebel against government forces. “We had a government that wanted to clear all [South Sudanese]. They promoted specific ethnic groups and specific faiths – so basically pro Islam – to try and make the country an Islamic state. The people in the South didn’t want that. They wanted to keep their culture, their identity. They wanted to be free and they had to fight for that.” Jal explains the history of the Sudanese civil war succinctly, but he says it took him “years to understand what the war was about.”
Any one of these events would be considered a tragedy. Surviving just one of these events would require enormous resilience and timely help from others. That Emmanuel Jal has grown up to be a renowned musician, author, and advocate for peace and social justice is a testament to his personal strength and those who have helped him along the way. There is something about his story that people respond to. Why people respond to his story is easy for Jal to understand. “It’s a story of struggle and [humans] learn from one another. When someone goes through pain and overcomes it, it doesn’t matter what colour that person is, it inspires all of us,” says Jal. Those who have grown up in the West have no way to comprehend what Jal and the South Sudanese people have been through. We understand the number “two million” as an abstract concept. Stories like Jal’s must be told, but how do you convey such an emotional experience? Music has provided Jal with a platform to communicate his story and reach a huge audience around the world. “First it was just for fun. I am an accidental musician. I never planned it,” laughs Jal. As accidents go, this one has turned out very well. Jal has performed with Will Smith, Alicia Keys and at Live 8, a concert series to benefit African causes.
When someone goes through pain and o v e rc ome s i t, i t doesn’t matter what colour that person is, it inspires all of us.
Tired of the fighting, Jal, at eleven years old, joined a group of child soldiers who deserted the war to return home to their tribe. Of the 400 children that began the journey home, only 16 survived. At a refugee camp in the South Sudanese village of Waat, Jal’s life took a turn for the better when he formed a connection with an aid worker named Emma McCune. McCune smuggled Jal to Kenya, enrolled him in school and tried to help him heal from the trauma of his childhood. But, tragically, only a few months later, McCune was killed in a car accident. Jal spent some time living on the streets before McCune’s friends banded together to support and continue Jal’s education.
His primarily English album, Gua, was released in many countries. His style mixes hip hop and African beats. Hip-hop is by now a familiar sound to us, but socially conscious hip hop less so. Jal frankly assesses the situation: “Hip-hop is business. So sex and violence sell. It’s like little movies in the form of songs. They’re entertaining.” Jal manages to combine songs that are worth listening to with powerful, though sometimes disturbing lyrics. In the song “Vagina”, Jal draws broader connections – from the pain of war to the ongoing economic exploitation of Africa. “When you’re talking about conscious music, you’re educating people. And when you educate the masses you’re going to be a threat to a lot of corporations,” says Jal.
When you’re talking about conscious music, you’re educating people. And when you educate the masses you’re going to be a threat to a lot of corporations.
For the Sudanese who have suffered, Jal’s songs represent their shared experience. The knowledge that they are not alone brings comfort. His lyrics are not comfort songs to me, but Jal’s songs add meaning to all too familiar stories of war and violence. Listening to music is an emotional experience. We can now better understand Jal’s lyrics even if we cannot relate to them. Jal is driven by the urge to tell his story. “You’re trying to show the negative sides and bring the positive within the negative, but not forgetting where you come from,” explains Jal. He has currently begun a tour of 100 schools worldwide as a powerful advocate for peace. Jal started a charity, Gua Africa (gua-africa.org), to help victims of war in Sudan and Kenya. “We challenge people to give up something to make the world better,” says Jal. He has
started a movement, We Want Peace (wewantpeace. org), which he hopes will prevent future violence. “We have had so many successes – music videos, events with high profile speakers, getting the celebrities involved – putting the spotlight on South Sudan.” Jal has harnessed the digital tools of the 21st century to promote his music and social work. Experiencing the costs of violence firsthand, Jal’s feelings of vengeance have given way to a deeper understanding and appreciation for peace than most of us will have. Non-violent movements create the most successful reconciliations of divided societies because they break the cycle of violence. Revenge cannot be the path forward. Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King are not only revered for the change they accomplished, but how they accomplished it. Jal’s story is another reminder of their lessons and what consequences violence brings.