Ceasefire is stunning. This collaboration between Emmanuel Jal, a Christian from southern Sudan, and Abdel Gadir Salim, a Muslim from northern Sudan, sends a powerful message throughout the country in the shadow of war. For more than 20 years the Muslim north had battled the non-Muslim south until a peace agreement earlier this year. Sudan's future, however, remains uncertain. Ceasefire is a powerful and symbolic cry for lasting peace that is urgently needed at this crucial moment in Sudan's history.
The music lives up to the historical backdrop. Jal is a rap sensation whose popularity has exploded from Nairobi to all of Africa and beyond. Salim is a respected and popular composer, singer, and oud player whose songs reflect the musical traditions of Sudan. He is absent from about half of the songs, which are written and performed by Jal. The remaining songs are written and performed by Salim and his band but feature occasional bursts of rap by Jal. The result of this eclectic collaboration is a vibrant and diverse fabric of sound that stirs the soul.
Emmanuel Jal's rap is soft but solid, and his talent is unquestionable. His warmly mellow voice flows over lively, energetic beats. Like his message, his rap stands in sharp contrast to the harsh American variety, and Jal's style is much more listenable, despite the language barrier. He alternates with grace between each of the five languages (there are translations) on this CD, sometimes multiple times in a single verse. In between verses, joyous and hopeful choruses explode over the music, adding an exotic dimension that accents Jal's laid-back rapping.
Though most of the songs concern peace for Sudan, one stood out for its address of another urgent issue in Africa. 'Nyambol' tells the story of a young girl who suffers abuse and then escapes a forced marriage to ultimately achieve an education and become "an important person" and "important leader" in her village. The song showcases both Jal's rapping ability and his understanding that peace in Sudan, though extremely important, is just one of the many issues in Africa deserving the world's attention. He shows definite promise for being both a musical messiah and force for social change in the future.
The ultimate lure of the album is Abdel Gadir Salim's music. Jal's tunes heavily emphasize a pop sensibility that is no doubt great, but Salim generates a deeper, more mature sound that is quite unlike any popular music in the States. His rich, textured voice expresses a wisdom that is only developing in Jal. When Jal jumps into Salim's songs, however, Salim and his band help Jal achieve a clarity that isn't as evident on his own songs.
At the age of 7 Jal lost his mother and was taken to a camp in Ethiopia where he was trained to be a soldier. In 1991, along with scores of other child soldiers, Jal was forced to walk hundreds of miles to join a rebel group. Salim once survived a brutal stabbing while attempting to hold a concert in Khartoum. Both musicians endured unimaginable adversity to become important figures, not only in Sudan's future, but in Africa's as well. I imagine that Ceasefire is only the beginning.