WAR CHILD - THE FILM: Former Sudanese child soldier uses rap to deliver peace message
Review from Paste Magazine
By Sean Edgar December 5, 2008
Former Sudanese child soldier gives human face to Africa relief efforts
Despite the flood of benefit concerts and newspaper headlines that have illuminated human rights violations in northeastern Africa this past decade, humanitarian movements have lacked a human appeal to link the faceless statistics of genocide to the sympathizing human psyche. Emmanuel Jal, an international hip-hop MC and former child fighter in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, aims to fill that void as the new ambassador of these atrocities in the documentary War Child.
Jal straddles the rare line between post-traumatic war victim and pacifist heart throb: while lecturing a college class, he bashfully asks the female students for the phone numbers of single friends after explaining how he ate raw vultures while fleeing the resistance army in brilliant detail. This disarming irony creates an introspective question that runs through the heart of the film: How can one man who’s passed through the horrors of war come out the other end smiling and optimistic to change it? If this philanthropic, charming 20-something could be implicated in such depravity, then anyone can be—not just members of post-colonial third worlds. It’s a frightening dichotomy for every closet racist who assumes that war, rape and genocide are indigenous to savage cultures and mentalities isolated thousands of miles away.
Director Christian Karim Chrobog does an admirable job of playing historian and biographer, using the conflict of the SPLA and the invading Arabs as a backdrop for Jal’s journey from Sudan to London. Even more interesting are the reactions that greet Jal’s music afterward; watching American girls hesitantly grind to the lyrics “Children of Darfur / Your empty bellies on the telly / It’s you I’m fighting for” illustrates Jal’s burden of presenting a very unsexy subject in a music genre oftentimes defined by pleasure and hedonism. By the end of the film, though, it’s clear that Jal possesses a singular quality that allows him to touch the soul of anyone who will listen: unadultured hope.
View the War Child trailer:
Release Date: Currently showing in select cities
Director: Christian Karim Chrobog
Cinematographer: S.J. Staniski
Studio/Run Time: Reelu Films, 92 mins.
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Article from Sudan Tribune November 20, 2008 (NEW YORK) —
Former Sudanese child soldier uses rap to deliver peace message
Sudanese child soldier turned global hip hop star Emmanuel Jal has both embraced rap as a way to reach a global audience and distanced himself from what he says is a tendency to glorify violence.
Jal, who fought with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for five years as a child and guesses he is 28 years old, tells his story in detail in the documentary "War Child," released on DVD this month, and in a memoir and an album of the same name.
The documentary won the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Jal’s memoir will be published in February by St. Martin’s Press.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Jal said that hip hop should be about demanding positive change.
"When somebody comes and says that they enjoy killing people, they don’t know what they’re talking about. The real killers, they don’t talk about killing," Jal said.
Jal’s "War Child" album includes both biographical songs where he confesses doing "inhuman and barbaric" things and playful songs advising women not to wear their "skirts too short" and scolding U.S. rappers for using bad language.
In the song "50 Cent" he takes the U.S. rapper to task for producing a violent video game called "Bulletproof."
For Jal, who now lives in London, music is a form of therapy that allows him to sort through feelings of guilt while serving as a role model for child victims of war.
He has set up the Gua Africa charity and is planning to build a school in Leer, his village in southern Sudan.
"I believe I have survived for a reason, to tell my story to touch lives," Jal says in the song "War Child."
In about 1987, his village in southern Sudan was attacked by soldiers loyal to the government and his mother was killed. He was brought into the SPLA and taught to fire an AK-47 rifle that Jal said he was barely strong enough to hold.
"I lost my childhood completely, you know, and I’ll never recover that," said Jal, who raps in Arabic, English, Swahili, and his native Nuer language. "But through music I feel like a child again. I can sing and dance again."
When he was about 13, Jal was discovered by Emma McCune, a British aid worker who was married to Riek Machar, a military commander who is now vice president of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan.
McCune smuggled him into Kenya and enrolled him in school in Nairobi. Jal says McCune rescued 150 child soldiers from the fighting in southern Sudan before she died in a car crash.
In 2005, Jal released the song "Gua," which means "peace" in Nuer, and the song became a hit in Kenya.
The same year, the Sudanese government in Khartoum and southern rebels ended the 21-year civil war that killed 2 million people and forced 4 million from their homes.
An independence referendum is expected to be held in 2011.
Introducing Jal this year at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration in London, the musician Peter Gabriel called Jal "someone with the potential of a young Bob Marley."
Jal, who is Christian, said writing his memoir helped "deliver" him from the guilt and pain of his past. While writing the war scenes, Jal said he suffered bloody noses and violent nightmares and was tempted to give up.
He said he keeps going because he wants to make a difference, and also because he is afraid of what his mind will go through if he slows down.
"When I’m idle, that’s when my brain actually messes me up and sometimes I’m worried," he said. "I say, what about when I’m gonna be 60? Will I be hit by my history? That’s the only fear I think about every day."
Photo: Emmanuel Jal poses during a photocall for the film "War Child" at the 34th American Film Festival in Deauville, Normandy, France, Saturday September 13, 2008 (AP/ST)
Emmanuel Jal - Warchild
Check out the film trailer:
Afro Samurai - Warchild
On his website, Emmanuel introduces this YouTube clip with the words:
"Here’s an interesting use of my music"
The full-length documentary on Emmanuel Jal's life and times has been touring the film festival circuit. It premiered at the Berlinale festival last year, and won the Cadillac audience choice award at the Tribeca film festival.
Photo: Emmanuel Jal at Berlin Festival
Photo: Emmanuel Jal at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival
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Sudan Watch, February 15, 2009
Former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal uses rap to deliver peace message
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 ALBUM & CD