All posts by Shouts

Jaiksana: War Child Beating Drums Of Peace

This article, by Peter Choge, was originally published by Music In Africa on the 13th of June 2022.

He has been described as a musician and activist. His story is one of overcoming adversity and beating the odds. Instead of letting his refugee status define him, Jaiksana Soro decided to become a voice for his people, highlighting their plight through his music and empowering them through grassroots projects. Music In Africa recently had the privilege of engaging this rising hip hop artist about music, his organisation Platform Africa and his vision for a peaceful, prosperous South Sudan.

Photo by Jaiksana Soro

MUSIC IN AFRICA: Tell us about yourself as a South Sudanese, as a refugee, as a musician and as a changemaker.

JAIKSANA: I was born in a refugee camp in northern Uganda on 2 August 1996. A brutal civil conflict had displaced countless people from Southern Sudan [now South Sudan], including my parents. In the refugee camps, we were faced with the challenge of trying to make a living in the absence of opportunities, deprived of everyday living necessities. So when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005 and we were able to return to South Sudan under the repatriation programme, we were not only relieved but also hopeful.

However, after a few years, things began to go wrong. Another conflict pitting South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar erupted between 2013 and 2016, causing us to return to the refugee camp. I was turning 20 in 2016, so I was more aware of things, and it was sad to have a home one day and then have everything taken away from you the next. That year, instead of despairing, I decided to co-found Platform Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the narrative and empowering refugees. My music continues on that building block, telling stories and empowering others through it.

What does your music mean to you and what do you hope to achieve through it?

Writing songs and putting them out there can be really powerful. When you consider a song as a vehicle and what it can carry, music can be an important medium that helps put a mirror on society or help us find meaning in the face of difficult situations. Apart from my personal story and the issues I faced – such as conflict, being displaced to a refugee camp and dealing with my anxiety – things are really hard right now. The music project I am currently working on titled I Am Still Alive is about that: navigating my mental health and reflecting on subjects like family, displacement, dealing with loss and finding peace.

I hope that by being open about my experiences, I can create music that is rooted in real-life issues that people can relate to. When I released my song ‘Run’, which is about self-love and transcending the obstacles that hold us back in life, I received a lot of positive feedback and inspiring stories from people for whom my music played a therapeutic role in their lives and helped them overcome their struggles. When I wrote it, I didn’t know it was something that a lot of people would come to relate to. I wrote a song to heal and free myself, and for that to be meaningful to other people is very empowering. In addition, I hope that my music sets a precedent and emboldens people in the South Sudanese music space to be able to own and tell their stories no matter the shape or form of their native lens.

Why hip hop? How did you get introduced to the genre?

We didn‘t have a lot of music to listen to while growing up because my mother, like many other women in the refugee community, never owned a radio, let alone a TV. So all the music I interacted with came from video halls and bars with TVs. Video halls are like makeshift theatres because there‘s usually just one old 32-inch TV and a bunch of people, sometimes hundreds, gathered to experience music and the outside world. Since it was expensive to afford, we made sure to save and use our money for the most interesting programmes.

For me, a Sunday programme called SM, short for Special Music, was my favourite, and it was here that I got introduced to R&B and hip hop, and beyond just learning about new genres of music, I also experienced the use of words, rhythm and melodies to tell stories, and remind institutional power where true power lies.

Fast forward to the present date, I feel that hip hop has helped me find better alternatives to deal with issues in life. I dealt with anxiety, and still do wrestle with big questions around the meaning of life, and I built a relationship with music as a healing agent, using it as a crutch and a form of therapeutic relief or escape.

When I decided to work on my album, I naturally fell back on my favourite genre – hip hop. I wanted my music to be uplifting, but at the same time I wanted it to start conversations on issues that are often overlooked in our communities, like mental health or displacement, and rap is a form of expression that allows that kind of depth, and the ability to build lyrics with layered meanings that leave bread crumbs for people to follow and form their own interpretations of things.

What are the other genres you embrace?

Besides rap music, the other genre that I like is experimental music. My younger siblings are both rookie producers, and they sometimes make music that doesn’t use instruments in the conventional way, yet when you hear it, you go like, “Wow, this is aesthetically pleasing, in a melodic sense.” Because they’re not fluent in music theory, their creativity is not fenced in by the constraints of what professional or classical music should sound like, giving them the unique advantage of using surprise as an element of their compositional aesthetic.

I am always blown away by the creative sounds they come up with. My brother Taylor Beats once sat in a room with a musician called Franko jamming on the piano and they ended up making a record about local South Sudanese food. They talked about food in a comedic way and the song topped the charts in South Sudan. Do we call that an experimental music theme?

Another genre that I love is Afrobeats, which I prefer to describe as African sounds because I don’t want to use the word ‘Afrobeats’ as a blanket term that portrays the continent/African music as a monolith. African music is finally assuming its position on the world stage – songs like ‘Ameno’, ‘Love Nwantiti’, ‘Jerusalema’, or musicians like Diamond Platnumz and Burna Boy.

Others are enjoying record numbers of streaming, viral challenges and dance videos on short-form video platforms like TikTok, Reels and YouTube Shorts. But the standout point is that African sounds and the genres or styles evolving from the continents are fresh. Because they’re uniquely tied to our identity and cultures and it’s something that only we can bring to the table, so there’s a responsibility on the part of African creators to document our sounds and patterns.

Finally, R&B and EDM are among the other genres on my list. The album I am currently working on is a musical palette that blends many of these genres and incorporates sound samples that push the boundaries of sound design and integration of themes to strengthen both message and meaning.

Who are your greatest influences musically, and what role do your Sudanese roots play in your music? What is the role of traditional music?

Witt Lowry, Ivan B, and NF are my biggest influences but I also listened to a lot of Emmanuel Jal’s music in the past. His War Child album was ground-breaking in terms of how he presented the stories of former child soldiers like himself.

To answer your second question on the role of my South Sudanese roots in my music, I was basically raised in times of civil conflict, lived as a refugee and witnessed domestic violence. Because of that, I am constantly working to bring about change in my life and community through my activism and music, so my roots and story are like a map or guide of where I came from, where I am now and where I want to go. In a few words, it helps me become authentic and I want for my music to mean something. In terms of sound, I am also exploring our local South Sudanese sounds and incorporating some of them into my music to create something that is holistically different and unique.

Traditional music, in my view, promotes the creation of identity and community. Each community has its own collection of instruments, structures or rhythms and vocabulary, which serves as a powerful tool for people to not only celebrate who they are but also to recreate what has gone before and to establish who they want to be in the future.

In an age where technology is revolutionising how we listen to music, a focus on developing digital libraries of our traditional music is essential not only to preserve it but also to allow people to sample and improve it. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the amapiano genre from South Africa, for example, sounds just like my traditional music from the Pojulu tribe. Who knows, if we are able to create a collection of our sound and incorporate amapiano, we could be the next global fad.How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

This is usually where we list all of our trophies and accolades and brag about our vast wealth, but for me this is a chapter that has yet to be written. However, I was nominated for the Best New and Promising Artist at the South Sudan Musician Awards in my first year as a musician, and despite not winning, that went a long way in proving we have the right foot in the door. Our message of self-positivity has quickly earned us a large following and listeners across South Sudan, Uganda the US, Germany and beyond.

What are your future goals?

Setting up a music studio in the refugee camp is one of them. I want to offer everyone in the refugee camp a voice and a platform to express themselves. We recently began a podcasting and media production programme for refugees in the Rhino Camp refugee settlement through our organisation Platform Africa. We secured a project called #ASKnet, short for Access to Skills and Knowledge network, and in parts of the workshops I was able to bring my producer DJ Poppa to record some tracks for the refugees, and the experience is still one of the best I’ve had this year.

We are currently working on a mobile lab project in partnership with Global Innovation Gathering where we took a truck and converted it into a mobile workshop and workspace to deliver workshops to remote villages in the refugee camp. So we’re hoping to set up a mini studio in the lab project to produce music as well.

In addition to that, I want to establish South Sudan’s first professional label and assist in the development of the future generation of storytellers.

Your vision for South Sudan?

My vision for South Sudan is simple. I want to see a country that can put its tumultuous past behind it and build a just, peaceful and affluent future that is led by its youth. This has to start with a political will to make it happen, meaning the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.

Analysis: What is sonic sovereignty? And why should Native Nations care?

Language and songs go hand in hand

Walters, Oklahoma on July 18, 2017. (Photo courtesy Renata Yazzie)

This article was written by Renata Yazzie and originally published by Source NM on May 31st, 2022.

Songs are historical documents, narrating the histories of our origins, geographies, relationships and more. Songs and language are so intimately tied and their survivance depends on each other.

“Kiowa people sing Kiowa more than they speak Kiowa,” said Maxwell Yamane, a Japanese-American Ph.D candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland.

The sentiment is also echoed by Native musicians across genres, including by Mato Wayuhi, Lakota producer and composer most well-known for scoring the hit TV series, “Reservation Dogs.”

“Being Lakota, [song] is so integral to the culture,” Wayuhi said in an interview. “Even if you don’t sing or play anything, the musicality of the culture is so formative on kids growing up.”

The Native American Languages Act (NALA) was passed by Congress back in 1990, allowing Native American languages to be used for instruction in schools and affirmed the right of Native American children “to express themselves, be educated, and assessed in their own Native language.”

Just last year it was amended by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to request federally mandated evaluations that ensured NALA was being carried out appropriately. The evaluations track the status of Native American languages every five years, and the results guide federal financial resources for language revitalization projects where they are most needed.

Yamane is researching how songs are used as a tool in response to calls for language reclamation and revitalization, and how federal policy such as the NALA is shaping the future of Indigenous sonic sovereignty.

Yamane describes all the ways songs could be used as a tool for language learning. Language teachers have options to teach songs from their community passed down from generations ago that are both composed in the language and musical style of their community. Other teachers opt to teach English songs that have been translated into a Native language. Sometimes there is an associated dance or instrumental accompaniment taught, but the core of the lesson is in participatory singing.

The elders in the Kiowa community that he joins in prefer to use hymns for teaching words not commonly found in everyday conversation, Yamane said. Kiowa hymns are entirely lyrical and usually do not contain vocable syllables (think: “fa la la la la” in “Deck the Halls”) like songs from other genres might. The hymns were composed primarily by Kiowa contributors and often contain lyrics that promote better understanding of Kiowa worldviews and philosophies — despite originally being written for Christian contexts.

“Songs and music are woven into the fabric of an Indigenous communities’ cultural ways. Songs are often viewed as being their own entities capable of interacting in sonic relationships with listeners of all backgrounds.”

And songs govern. They provide structure and protocol for a variety of events and situations. Songs heal and bless, functioning as both medicine and prayers. Together, they form the center of socialization and the cornerstone of our lifeways. Because songs are so important to the continuance and affirmation of cultural ways, one would think that it is within the best interest of tribal governments to claim sovereignty over the sonic realm of their communities.

Trevor Reed is a Hopi citizen and associate professor of law in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Reed completed a Juris Doctorate and a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology simultaneously from Columbia University in 2018. His research focuses on Indigenous sovereignty and creative production.

He broke down exactly what the Native American Languages Act meant for Indigenous sovereignty. “It doesn’t really produce any enforceable rights for individuals, but it does reaffirm the inherent sovereignty of tribes to pass laws or make law in the area of language. So that means individual tribes can exercise their right to govern language.”

The right of a tribe to govern their language has been most recently exercised in Standing Rock Sioux tribal courts with the banning of non-Lakota linguists and their organizations — Jan Ulrich, Wilhem Meya, the Lakota Language Consortium and The Language Conservancy — for a long list of offenses including, “breaking of traditional protocol,” ”breaking Tribal laws in the collection of our language,” and “commodifying and copyrighting our sacred language.”

In an article Reed wrote for the “Journal for the Copyright Society USA,” he states that “Congress has remained silent as to whether or not it intended copyright to apply on Tribal lands, and whether it intended to pre-empt Tribal laws occupying the same field as copyright.” The few cases addressing copyright issues on Tribal lands were split, he said, and did not offer a consensus.

Reed reminds us that, “music and sounds, it’s much different for us [Native Nations]…it could mean something totally different from what we think of when we’re thinking about something that’s copyrightable, like an album or a piece of sheet music.”

While enforcing copyright law would protect the sonic cultures of Native Nations from outsiders who have intentions to exploit, it could also suck the life out of them through overcomplicating bureaucratic measures. A copyright law encompassing all 574 federally-recognized Native Nations would be reductive, as each Nation has their own distinct laws, lifeways, languages, and sonic cultures.

Reed is a staunch advocate for tribes to claim sovereignty over their sonic expressions in a way that best fits their respective communities. As language and songs go hand in hand, “just like how the Native [American] Languages Act says that tribes have inherent sovereignty over language, I think tribes also have inherent sovereignty to govern music and it would be wonderful if more and more tribes exercise their rights in that area.”

Featured Album: Pianissimo By Matthias Vogt

Photo from Matthias’ Bandcamp page.

Having lived a bit of a double-life as a musician, being a respected jazz musician by day and spinning discs at large clubs at night, Matthias Vogt has experienced the ins and outs of the music industry. By colliding these two very different musical worlds Matthias manages to create his own, unique sound for whatever project he is working on in any given moment (they are many).

His latest album has an environmental protection theme. It features Matthias’ piano compositions along with spoken word. In an introductory video Matthias posted on his Facebook page, he explains how he conducted interviews with environmental activists and integrated those conversations into the music.

This is a beautiful album that is not to be skipped through, but slowly taken in, knowing where it comes from. Take a moment out of your day to listen to Matthias’ socio-political reflections as he portrays them through his music.

Accompanying Matthias’ piano work is Demian Kappenstein on drums and Daniel Stelter on guitar.

Via Matthias’ Bandcamp you can obtain the new album on beautiful vinyl, 100% eco-friendly and made from recycled products.