Issue 12.1: February/March 2009

Redemption Song

story by Paul Wood
photo by Monte Costa

His name, Jamallad, means “togetherness” in his native tongue, Baule, the endemic language of the Ivory Coast. A musical prodigy, he advanced his studies via scholarships, first in an Abidjan art school, then in Florence, Paris and the United States. In 2005, invited to perform at a Maui music festival, he traveled from “the LA concrete jungle” to a landscape like that of his childhood, “the same fruits, taro root, papaya …” So he moved to Maui—alone, confident and unaware he was headed for both disaster and redemption.

Sometimes even university-trained music scholars must do yardwork to get by. Out in a garden one day, Jamallad fell and damaged his spine. Paralysis began in his toes and slowly advanced toward his heart. Four months after the accident, he could barely drag himself to the car. “I was getting desperate,” he says. “I was scared.” In a chance encounter, though, he met single mom Chetanaa Zoeller and her son Tana. As Jamallad continued to lose physical control, mother and son moved him into their home and into their hearts. He underwent a hazardous surgery that could have rendered the African musician a voiceless paraplegic. Says Chetanaa, “It was a time when you just keep saying yes. I didn't think about it, but I did fall in love with him.” “My greatest blessing,” Jamallad calls her.

After surgery, “the last thing I wanted to do was write a song,” he says. But Chetanaa pushed him, co-writing the lyrics and co-producing an album, Global Citizen. Then he gave a concert during which he found the power to rise out of his wheelchair. “He has an amazing stage presence,” says Chetanaa, who had never seen him perform before. In fact, every song in the album could bring a crowd of thousands to its feet. Ecstatic and socially conscious, decidedly African and very much in the soukkous style, the music also pushes further into the territory explored by reggae’s great departed souls Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube. Jamallad has now brought together a vibrant performance ensemble, The Global Citizens, and leaped into the Island music scene. You can stay in touch with his resurrection at HH