Former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal uses rap to deliver peace message
Emmanuel Jal was one of them.
Here is his incredible story.
Photo: Emmanuel Jal (by Christian Karim Chrobog)
Emmanuel is a spokesman for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign.
He has set up the Gua Africa charity and is planning to build a school in Leer, his village in southern Sudan.
Through his music, Emmanuel Jal counts on the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan.
His single “War Child,” mixes rap with soul to produce a world music vibe. He begins with telling his story through powerful lyrics; “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survive for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.”
Central to the themes of his songs is the campaign for peace of opposing sides in Sudan and the clear message that children have no place in wars.
YouTube: Emmanuel Jal WARCHILD - official video - taken from the album WARCHILD (Courtesy of www.emmanueljalonline.net)
Emmanuel Jal was born in war-torn Sudan, and while he doesn’t know exactly when, he believes it was in the early 1980s. He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six or seven years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan’s bloody civil war. For nearly five years, he was a “child warrior,” put into battle carrying an AK-47 that was taller than he was.
By the time he was 13, he was a veteran of two civil wars and had seen hundreds of his fellow child soldiers reduced to taking unspeakable measures as they struggled to survive on the killing fields of Southern Sudan.
After a series of harrowing events, he was rescued by a British aid worker (Emma McCune) who smuggled him into Nairobi to raise him as her own.
To help ease the pain of what he had experienced, Emmanuel started singing. In 2005, he released his first album, Gua (”peace” in his native Nuer tongue), with the title track broadcast across Africa over the BBC and becoming a number one hit in Kenya. Gua also earned him a spot on Bob Geldof’s “Live 8″ concert in the UK.
Photo: Emmanuel Jal with Nelson Mandela
Jal performed at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in Hyde Park, London, June 08, he shared a stage with Alicia Keys, Annie Lennox, Damien Marley and Stephen Marley at the Black Ball in London in July 08 and also addressed delegates at the UN in New York in the same month. Jal has also performed with Razorlight, Supergrass, and Faithless in Europe.
Photo: Emmanuel Jal at the UN
In October 2008 Emmanuel toured the United States as part of the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival, in which he performed in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New Orleans. Jal also performed with Moby and Five for Fighting in the 2007 live concert film, The Concert To End Slavery (www.concerttoendslavery.com/trailer).
Photo: Emmanuel Jal outside the UN
Photo: Emmanual Jal at Harvard
Photo: Emmanuel Jal in Sudan
EMMANUEL JAL BIOGRAPHY
Emmanuel Jal (born c. 1980) is a Sudanese musician and former child soldier.
Born in the village of Tonj in Southern Sudan, he was a little boy when the civil war broke out. Emmanuel’s father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and when he was about seven years old his mother was killed by soldiers loyal to the government. Emmanuel then decided to join the thousands of children traveling to Ethiopia who had been told that they could be educated there.
However, many of the children, Emmanuel included, were recruited by the SPLA and taken to military training camps in the bush in Ethiopia. The camp was disguised as a school in front of international aid agencies and UN representatives, but behind closed doors the children were training to fight. “I didn’t have a life as a child. In five years as a fighting boy, what was in my heart was to kill as many Muslims as possible.”
Emmanuel spent several years fighting with the SPLA in Ethiopia, until war broke out there too and the child soldiers were forced back into Sudan by the fighting and joined the SPLA's efforts to fight the government in the town of Juba. "Many kids there were so bitter, they wanted to know what happened to them. And we all wanted revenge."
When the fighting became unbearable Emmanuel and some other children decided to run away. They were on the move for three months, with many dying on the way, until they reached the town of Waat, which was the headquarter on a small group that had separated themselves from the main SPLA.
In Waat Emmanuel met Emma McCune, a British aid worker married to senior SPLA commandant Riek Machar. Emmanuel was only 11 years old then and McCune insisted he should not be a soldier. She adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya. There Emmanuel attended school in Nairobi. McCune died in a road accident a few months later, but her friends helped Emmanuel to continue his studies.
While studying in Kenya, Emmanuel started singing to ease the pain of what he has experienced. He also became very active in the community, raising money for local street children and refugees. With the encouragement of those around him, Emmanuel became increasingly involved in music and formed several groups. His first single, "All We Need Is Jesus," was a hit in Kenya and received airplay in the UK.
Through his music, Emmanuel Jal counts on the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan. After escaping to Kenya, he fell in love with hip hop in the way that it identified issues being faced by the neighborhood, which he was able to identify with in a unique manner. Although he lacked any music background or knowledge of its history, he felt that hip-hop could provide the easiest and most effective path to publicize across his story and lobby for political change.
He went on to produce his first album, Gua, a mix of rap in Arabic, English, Kiswahili, Dinka and Nuer. The symbolism of unity is expressed in the title, meaning both "good" in Nuer and "power" in (Sudanese) Arabic. His lyrics illustrate the desires of the Sudanese people to return to a peaceful, independent homeland. Although the only hip hop Jal had ever listened to was American, while he was in Kenya, the beat to “Gua” is not the usual American hip hop, but rather is strongly African. The title track, also called "Gua", was a number one hit in Kenya and featured on The Rough Guide To The Music Of Sudan and Help: A Day In The Life, bringing together some of Britain’s best known on a CD in aid of children in conflict zones (produced by War Child).
His next single, “War Child,” mixes rap with soul to produce a world music vibe. He begins with telling his story through powerful lyrics; “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survive for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.” He continues the song with the narrative of his life and the pain inflicted upon him. “Written in English, Jal's second language, the new album [War-Child] may lack the poetic gymnastics of hip-hop's more fluent stars, but the plainness of the words - half-spoken, half-chanted over a mix of hip-hop and African-flavored choruses - keeps the focus on the story.” His powerful words spread the message of what he has been through, and what many are still living with now.
His unique brand of hip hop, layered with African beats, has led him to be considered one of the rising stars in the world music scene. Prior to Jal, rapping in Southern Sudan was primarily in the local language of Nuer and artists used sticks and clapping hands in place of instruments.
His second album, Ceasefire, was released in September 2005 and includes a re-recording of "Gua". This album is a collaboration with the well known Sudanese Muslim musician Abdel Gadir Salim and brings together opposing sides of the conflict, and different music traditions, to a common ground of the wish for peace in Sudan. The collaboration represents a vision for the future, as two Sudanese men, a Christian and a Muslim, unify and pave the way to overcome differences peacefully. Both musicians endured unimaginable adversity to become important figures, not only in music, but in the future of a country. They accentuate the differences between them and their musical styles, as a symbol of co-existence. The album preaches in four languages, encompasses every type of music in one, in an effort to transform the sound of hope into musical form. “Ceasefire” is not only the sound of two men collaborating on a musical project, but more symbolically, two halves of a divided nation learning to trust each other. This album's version of Gua was played on the American television series ER at the very end of the Season 12 episode "There Are No Angels Here" (aired on May 4, 2006).
Among other places he performed at the Live 8 Concert in Cornwall this summer. He was awarded a 2005 American Gospel Music Award for best international artist.
Emmanuel's third album, "Warchild", is released by Sonic360 Records in the UK on May 12th, 2008. Emmanuel, along with an all-star line-up, will perform songs at Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday concert at London's Hyde Park on June 27th, 2008.
Jal, whose own childhood was robbed from him, aims to protect the childhood of others through music. "Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission." According to Jal, in times of war, starvation, hunger and injustice, the only way to survive the daily tragedy in Sudan is to allow the inner-soul to be uplifted through music, which is like soul food to heal pain. Through his heartfelt lyrics, he opens the world up to the corruption and greed of the Sudanese government; central to the themes of his songs is the campaign for peace of opposing sides in Sudan and the clear message that children have no place in wars.
He has also passionately criticized the current state of hip hop culture in the United States. He sees hip hop as a vehicle to communicate an authentic message, rather than a space to pursue street credibility. “As well as simply being great songs, people are really getting into the lyrics, really understanding his message, and he is a great role model.”
He has expressed concern about the message being sent by American hip-hop artists, saying “American hip hop is still entwined with gang culture, drugs, sexual violence, and greed. It’s a battleground.”
His song, “50 Cent,” speaks to the successful American rapper to change his violent messages, which have a destructive influence on children, as exemplified through his “Bulletproof” videogame. "You have done enough damage selling crack cocaine/now you got a kill a black man video game/We have lost a whole generation through this lifestyle/now you want to put it in the game for a little child to play..."
Emmanuel is a spokesman for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign. He has set up the Gua Africa charity and is planning to build a school in Leer, his village in southern Sudan.
A documentary about Emmanuel Jal called War Child was made in 2008 by C. Karim Chrobog. It made its international debut at the Berlin Film Festival and its North American debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Cadillac Audience Award.
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Sudan Watch, February 15, 2009
WAR CHILD - THE BOOK: The true story of Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal
Sudan Watch, February 15, 2009
WAR CHILD - THE FILM: Former Sudanese child soldier uses rap to deliver peace message
Sudan Watch, February 15, 2009
WAR CHILD - THE ALBUM & CD
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POSTSCRIPT FROM SUDAN WATCH EDITOR
Emmanuel Jal's story ought to be compulsory reading for all school children. If anyone reading this article is able to translate it into French, Arabic and/or Swahili, I would be most grateful to receive a copy for publishing at Sudan Watch, Uganda Watch, Congo Watch, along with several other sites that are part of this network of blogs.