Published Sep 09, 2014By now, Emmanuel Jal's past as a former child soldier from Sudan — as noted via his 2009 autobiographical account War Child: A Child Soldier's Story — is firmly fixed in the rear view mirror. What has followed since then have been reflections and forward movement towards being equal parts musician and social activist. Latest album The Key is yet another lofty attempt towards this goal, reworking elements of spoken word, hip-hop, EDM and soul within his positive spiritual mindset as the Toronto-based Jal comes to terms with his harrowing past.
It's kind of a huge co-sign that Nelly Furtado ("Scars" and "Party") and Nile Rodgers (who produced lead single "My Power") have teamed up with Jal on the 12-track project, but The Key is fuelled by Jal's own spirituality, his "work-in-progress" sing-rap approach to vocals and a deep socio-political conscious. Lead track "We Fall" (featuring Mckenzie Eddy), with its lyrics "We fall and get up," sets the stage, but it's tracks such as the Afrobeat-driven "Yei" and the funky "Shalom Salaam" that are the best indictors that Jal is committed to musical mastery. "Every Child's Plate" (featuring Tanika Charles) carries a humble approach to a basic social message, as do politically charged tracks like "Taxi Driver" and "Dollar."
With The Key, Jal hasn't yet created the perfect album — more nuanced lyrics and greater vocal control are needed before claiming that — but he sticks the landing based on his charisma and desire to effect social change via music. Let "negative energy disappear," he sings on "Africa Awei," and this latest effort works to achieve just that. (Universal)