For all those jaded with the way that rap’s vibrant promise is so often hijacked by a tired litany of ‘guns and gangsta’ imagery, it’s time to meet Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim. These two Sudanese musicians really know something about war – and want to use music to effect a change for peace. Given its context – Ceasefire comes out of the ruins of the Sudanese civil war, in which Jal, from the Christian south, was a child soldier – this is astonishing.
Better still, Ceasefire has its own musical ideas, with Abdel Gadir Salim, an oud player and composer from Kordofan province in the north, coming into his own with his band, the Merdoum All-Stars. These fuse brass, percussion and merciless beats into a dance music that can stand beside MC Solaar or Mory Kanté. Jal, backed up with his Reborn Warriors rap crew, has a mellifluous approach. Using a mix of Nuer, Arabic and KiSwahili with a sprinkling of English, his themes mostly revolve around peace and homeland. The linguistic mix is significant: ‘Aiwa’ (Yes) harks back to a prelapsarian Eden where all languages and peoples coexist happily.
If this seems like a rosy fantasy, Ceasefire also has the strength to home in on the particular. ‘Nyambol’ follows a young girl who, escaping from an arranged marriage with the help of ‘kind aid workers’, gets an education and returns to her village in a blaze of glory – and is forgiven by her grandfather to boot.
Whether you’re seduced by Jal and Salim’s music or the power of the message, you can’t help hoping that this is the kind of music that might assist in changing a world.