Emmanuel Jal


Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Friday 14th October 2011

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: One performance only
Duration: 2hrs

Things didn't quite go according to plan at this event. The Festival Centre's staff, who became more bemused as the evening progressed, expected a three hour concert with two, ten minute intervals. It was actually a two hour performance with no intervals, and people constantly going in and out to the bar as though they were at a night club.

Advertised as an 8pm start, DJ Dexter (Dexter Fabay) finally appeared, unannounced, just before 8:30. Initially the audience sat and talked loudly over his performance, only a few people getting up to dance. His part of the evening was almost over before a sizeable number of people had moved onto the dance space.

Just as he was starting to get some active response, he was relieved of his post by DJ Silvastone, also unannounced, who quickly had twice the number of people up on the dance floor, possibly because the audience knew what was signalled by his appearance. Shortly after this, he introduced Emmanuel Jal and everything lifted several notches, with many more of the audience taking to the dance floor and crowding towards the stage to be nearer to him.

Once Jal began to perform, with the music and occasional backing vocals provided by Silvastone, it became a completely different concert. His lyrics draw on the experiences his horrific childhood and his reaction to the things that he survived. Forced to join the army at 7 years of age, escaping with 400 others and being one of the sixteen that survived is the essence of his well documented history, and the basis for an unaccompanied poem that he recited during the performance, to a hushed audience. The rest of his works had messages of love, peace and understanding, strongly contradicting the harsh and divisive lyrics of many of today's rap performers, particularly the 'gansta' rap faction.

The depth of meaning in his lyrics coupled with the drive of the music from Silvastone resulted in a packed dance floor during his entire set. During this exciting performance, he spoke of Gua, the charity which he founded and, a number of times, as he was performing, people joined him on stage and handed him donations. He actually encouraged people to join him on stage to dance and was more than happy to shake hands with anybody near enough to the front of the stage to reach. It was all about reaching out to others, in more ways than physically.

For over an hour he strode around the stage, leapt high into the air, danced, and immersed himself and the audience in his words. Everybody seemed to be smiling, whether dancing or stopping to listen, and a general feeling of goodwill, along with a massive surge of positive energy filled the room. People happily started up conversations with total strangers. Time flew quickly past, though and, even with an encore, it seemed to finish far too soon.

With the departure of Jal and Silvastone, Dexter reappeared, no doubt intending to play until the planned 11pm finish. Unfortunately, Jal had announced that he was going to the foyer to sign his CDs, and the audience hastily followed him, leaving the room almost empty by 10:20pm. It must have been a disappointing evening for Dexter. In hindsight, a short concert with just Jal and Silvastone would probably have worked better.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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