The social activist's latest mix of hip hop and soul is a musically fearless exercise in positive thinking.
The musician and social activist known as Emmanuel Jal has come a long way from his former life as a child soldier in South Sudan. As he reveals in his 2009 autobiography, War Child, Jal fought in the Second Sudanese Civil War as a child conscript before being rescued by a social worker. Now he’s based in Toronto, a “child soldier turned recording artist,” and his latest record, The Key, is another step in his progression as a musician and social activist.
From darkness comes light—that appears to be Jal’s musical mantra. His sound melds elements of hip hop, soul, dub, EDM, and Afrobeat, and although his sing-rap vocal style is one he is still growing into, his talent is undeniable. The Key sees Jal collaborate with Nelly Furtado (who appears on “Scars” and “Party”) and funk guitar hero Nile Rodgers of Chic and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” fame (on the riveting track “My Power”).
The 12-track album is musically fearless and brimming with positivity; Jal takes on social and political themes in a way that encourages positive action. A cathartic undercurrent runs through the whole record, reflecting not only the horrors Jal has seen but also the spiritual fortitude it takes to keep the soul intact when all is sung and done.