South Sudan refugee tells his story through music

13 September 2011 - 02:31 By ANDREA NAGEL
Rapper Emmanuel Jal, who mesmerised music fans with his heart-stopping performances at the Alexander Theatre Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND
Rapper Emmanuel Jal, who mesmerised music fans with his heart-stopping performances at the Alexander Theatre Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

South Sudan refugee Emmanuel Jal played to an enthusiastic audience at the Alexander Theatre, in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on Saturday night.

Gaining acclaim for his powerful lyrics, Jal is also working on getting his message of peace out to people through his movie Warchild, by Christian Karim Chrobog, as well as with an autobiography of the same name.

The rising hip-hop star's energetic performance and chaotic moves had the crowd out of their seats, on their feet and dancing in the aisles.

Jal's personal history informs most of his songs. He was forced into John Garang's rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army when he was six or seven - he does not know his age - after his mother was killed by soldiers.

He travelled to Ethiopia, where he was taken to a military training camp in the bush.

Jal said: "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. I wanted revenge."

Jal is now a spokesman for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign.

"I survived the experience of being a war child to tell my story. I survived to learn about love," he said.

Jal calls himself an "accidental hip-hop artist" and admits that he started singing to ease the pain of his life experience.

"It's like putting a light on in a dark place," he said. "I was impressed with the ability of hip-hop to identify and give a voice to problems and issues facing communities. It's a way of speaking out about things that I'm passionate about."

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