Emile YX? scoops AAAL public service award

Emile Jansen aka Emile Yx? won the AAAL Distinguished Public Service Award.

A trailblazer on South Africa’s hip hop scene, Emile Jansen aka Emile YX?, from Grassy Park, has received an award from the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL).

This is the first time the AAAL Distinguished Public Service Award is being given to a person or organisation outside of North America, the organisation notes on its website.

The award recognises individuals outside of the field of applied linguistics – writers, journalists, politicians, lawyers, etc. – whose work raises public awareness of important social issues connected to language and makes exceptional contributions to promotion of multilingualism, linguistic social and justice, and language-related human rights.

Jansen, who now splits his time between SA and America, has been a justice-and-language activist for over 30 years. He is the founder of the hip hop group Black Noise and the Heal the Hood community project. He was a featured artist in the award-winning documentary Afrikaaps. His work focuses on “language-related human rights” in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, restoring the agency of multilingual, racialised speakers by advocating for Kaaps/Afrikaaps, a historically stigmatised variety of creolised Afrikaans spoken by the working class near Cape Town.

A virtual event, during which the award will be presented to Jansen and some of his work will be shown, is being planned for February next year.

When Jansen heard that he was to receive this award he said it “was a bit of surprise that I won, but when I saw what we did with Heal the Hood in comparison to other organisations over the years, I was not as surprised but reminded that we are doing amazing work that just got international acknowledgement”.

Jansen said one of the main challenges he had faced growing up in Grassy Park had been the “societal norms of what we are allowed to be by our history and enforced one story being told about our communities at that time.”

Artists throughout the world were confronted by that “but more so in South Africa because of the lack of value attached to being an artist or a creative person. Creativity creates the solutions we desperately need”.

He said his passion to make a difference in the community stemmed from his “parents’ strong upbringing to work in our community to help solve our problems”.