SxSW is far more than a new music and film festival and party gathering in Austin TX each March. Rarher the annual music, film, and interactive media festival, that began back in 1987, has steadily grown to become a relevant cultural and political gathering. Among this year's hot cultural topics is the new documentary Stranger Fruit. containing previously unseen security footage of Michael Brown, that premiered at SxSW over the past opening weekend of the ten day festival. Since that SxSW screening the controversial documentary has been grabbing news headlines and reviving discussion on the August 2014 fatal shooting in Ferguson that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
Another hot button political topic at this year's SxSW is the ContraBanned #MusicUnites concert showcase and panel discussion, happening Friday March 17th. Self-described as "artists from the diaspora of the banned nations," ContraBanned is the collective of artists (including Emmanuel Jal pictured above/interviewed below) that came into being following the January 27th Executive Order issued by the new White House administration's banning entry into the U.S. for ninety days by citizens from seven majority Muslim countries as well as to banning entry to Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even though that controversial Executive Order from six weeks ago, that singled out the nations of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, had been temporarily suspended plans for the SxSW showcase this Friday (March 17th) remained firmly in place. Similarly even after the March 6th updated Executive Order that removed Iraq from the list of nations affected plus exempted lawful permanent residents and green card holders.
Two and a half hours before the 7:30pm SxSW music showcase at Palm Door on Sixth over in room 10B of the Austin Convention Center will be the related one hour panel discussion: ContraBanned: Musicians & the Travel Ban at 5pmUnder the hashtag #MusicUnites eight different artists, including the Canadian based Sudanese hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, the US based Syrian Bassel and the Supernaturals and the Iranian born, UK based electronic dance artist Ash Koosha signed to Ninja Tune, will participate in the showcase that hopes to provide a "platform to artists from the diasporas of the often misunderstood and misrepresented Muslim-majority countries" according to a statement from the collective.
That prepared statement continues that, "We need to make it our mission to use whatever power we have at our disposal—the power of media, the power of capital, and the power of music—to promote communication, collaboration, and understanding." The other musicians scheduled for the Friday March 17th SxSW showcase include Dena Elsaffar (Iraq/US), Mamak Khadem (Iran/US), Mohsen Namjoo (Iran/US), Khaled M (Libya/US), and Canadian based Somalian female duo Faarrow whose "Chasing Highs" video appears below. Meanwhile the showcase's emcee will be Azhar Muhammad Usman. You will notice how each of these showcase artists are either US, UK, or Canadian based with approx half of them are born in the country that they represent and the others born to parents from said nations.
"Chasing Highs" by Somalian duo Faarrow who'll be @ SxSW #MusicUnites ContraBanned showcase
ContraBanned's Emmanuel Jal is the Canadian based Sudanese born hip-hop artist whose engaging lyrics are rooted in his incredible firsthand experiences of being a child soldier in Sudan. His
autobiographical music, about been an eight year old armed soldier in the Sudanese People's Liberatin Army, can be heard on his album Warchild released back in 2008. Around that same time the now 37
year old musician's autobiography was published by St. Martin's Press when he was also the main subject of the Karim Chrobog documentary War Child. During that same period the artist's music was
heard in the Leonardo DiCaprio starring feature film Blood Diamond. Fast forward to now and Emmanuel Jal who is a busy musician, actor, and campaigner.
Jal's current musical project, the artist's sixth studio album, is the latest joint collaboration with his sister, Nyaruach. Nyaruach's life story is similar to her brother's dramatically tragic tale. She was also born in South Sudan but separated from her brother and the rest of her immediate family at age 4. As retold in her brother's bio as the years went on, the war intensified, she witnessed her family members killed, houses burned and was raped by government officials.But in 2004 she would be reunited with brother in Nairobi when the two recorded Emmanuel's break out single "Gua" (“Peace”) that became a No. 1 hit in Kenya. The new 2017 album by the the siblings features the upbeat lead single "Ti-Chuong." This week the Amoeblog caught up with the artist to discuss the upcoming showcase and the reasons for it.
Amoeblog: For you why is this week's ContraBanned #MusicUnites showcase and panel at SxSW such an important event?
Emmanuel Jal: Because it's bringing the voices that can't be heard to the people and creating a global platform of artists from countries which otherwise struggle to represent their culture and art.
Amoeblog: In terms of detentions at airports what are your personal experiences been and/or those of people you know?
Emmanuel Jal: For myself it depends on the officer's mood. I have never been refused to enter but it is tricky for people from my country to travel freely because half the population are now refugees. I believe in humankind and that if I approach things positivity and calmness so I have always been fortunate. That's the spirit I believe in.
Amoeblog: In light of your own personal history, how do you view the overriding mentality of the new Trump administration?
Emmanuel Jal: When we don't know each other we have fear: we assume the worst. The fear of poverty in the world and within the U.S is real and people are afraid about their needs being taken. Before we start pointing the fingers at the Trump administration we have to look at ourselves. How can we look after each and at each other better? The leaders of our countries are the reflection of our people. In South Sudan right now our government is starving our people and the world is turning a blind eye [on that] and on the killings and the human rights abuses. No human being leaves their loved ones and their homelands for no reason. They are doing so in order to save themselves or create a better life which shows we are all connected. What happens in one corner of the world will affect another place. However you'll never know the potential of someone unless you invest in them and give them an opportunity. Look at me now I grew up as a child solider and a refugee. But I now live in Canada and have three businesses which employ people. I'm a thinker. I solve problems and I give back to my community. I think these are the stories people should focus on.
Amoeblog: And what do you see as the long term outcome of what appears to be a prevailing global climate of nationalism?
Emmanuel Jal: If we just focus on ourselves and ignore issues in other countries we are actually increasing the problem we are going to create more divisions, more conflict and more refugees. We need to look at ourselves in a way to better ourselves so we can help others, not to exclude them. Human beings are giving species. We thrive best, think better, and create better when we are doing it as an intention to serve the greater good together!
The ContraBanned #MusicUnites showcase will take place at the Palm Door on Sixth in Austin TX this Friday March 17th during SxSW. Get full schedule info here.