Jonathan Emile: Music a tool for communication and social change
Jonathan Emile 2003, a musician and Selwyn House Old Boy who visited the school to give a unique presentation for Black History Month, captivated students from Grades 3-11 on Feb. 5.
Jonathan is a well-established hip-hop and reggae recording artist, rapper, singer, producer, activist and a cancer survivor who has taken his artistry around the world and has worked with some of the biggest names in pop music.
Midway through the show he staged an audience participation freestyle challenge, in which he improvised a rap based on words suggested by the audience, with the boys singing along enthusiastically on the chorus.
His Black History Month presentation began with a video of his hit song “Heroes,” followed by a talk in which he paid tribute to his father and other real-life heroes, people “larger than life,” such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi and Sir Winston Churchill. This led to the thesis of his talk: music as “a tool for communication and social change.”
Jonathan spoke of how, when slaves were brought to North America from Africa, they were stripped of their culture, but music allowed them to maintain their roots.
“Our language was taken away, our religion, families broken apart, self-determination and purpose stripped away. Music remained as a singular force for bringing these people together. And they used music to celebrate, to mourn, to deal with their emotions, and this continues to this day.”
“Black History Month is not just for Black people,” he said. “It’s for everybody, as an example of the human struggle and human persistence.”
Jonathan spoke of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who worked through the Underground Railroad to smuggle hundreds of slaves to Canada. He sang “Wade in the Water,” a Negro spiritual that he said is code for a technique runaway slaves used for eluding the dogs searching for them.
He played “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan and “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, two songs of protest that were popular during the American civil rights struggle in the 1960s.
Jonathan concluded his presentation with a moving rendition of “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley.
“When we talk about Black history we’re talking about human history," he said.
Enoch Tamale, Gr. 11, a prefect and organizer of the program, said he thought Jonathan Emile gave “a tremendous presentation. He dealt with the subject of Black history well, but also talked about music, and how people use it for communication.”