Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Emma Saved Me and Set Me on the Road to Stardom; Rap Artist Emmanuel Jal, Who Performs atWomad This Weekend, Endured Unimaginable Hardship and Terror as a Child Soldier in Sudan. Finally, His Life Was Turned around by an Extraordinary Young Englishwoman

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Emma Saved Me and Set Me on the Road to Stardom; Rap Artist Emmanuel Jal, Who Performs atWomad This Weekend, Endured Unimaginable Hardship and Terror as a Child Soldier in Sudan. Finally, His Life Was Turned around by an Extraordinary Young Englishwoman

Article excerpt

Byline: EMINE SANER

EARLIER this month, Emmanuel Jal performed at Live8: Africa Calling, a 10-minute slot in front of 5,000 British people at the Eden Project in Cornwall. His mentor, Peter Moszynski, the man who has been looking after him while he's in London, suggested a walk around the lush gardens but Jal said he'd seen enough jungle in his life.

It has been an extraordinary journey from his small village in Sudan to Cornwall. He thinks he is 25, but can't be sure. He was born in Sudan but his birth certificate was lost when war broke out. As a child soldier, he witnessed things of unimaginable horror.

Then he was rescued by a remarkable woman, whose own story is being made into a Hollywood movie.

Now living in Nairobi, Kenya, he is mobbed by crowds who know him as a rap superstar after his first single went to number one. The Africa Calling organiser, Peter Gabriel, was so impressed with Jal's performance he has asked him to perform at Womad (World of Music, Art and Dance) in Reading this weekend.

Jal says he enjoyed performing in Cornwall but thought he would be performing in Hyde Park. He had met Bob Geldof at an African cultural event at the British Museum a week before the concert. "He told me I had to sell 4 million copies to be able to perform at Hyde Park, that I had to be famous to stop people from switching off. But I felt that I am the voice of the marginalised, I should be given the position to pass their message to a wider audience. I lost respect for him.

"He should have said to the world, here are some African musicians, see what they can offer. The only thing I saw was Western pop stars using the name of the poor so they can be seen as nice people."

Jal was three when war broke out in southern Sudan. His father, a policeman, left to join the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel group fighting the government, and shortly afterwards, his mother, a nurse, took Jal, his two sisters and two brothers to find their father and to escape the fighting. Two years later, they found their father in a town called Bentiu.

"It was tough," says Jal. "We had no money and we'd lost all our possessions.

The government was bombing and burning villages, people were being killed."

The SPLA decided that all children between the ages of seven and 13 should go to school in Ethiopia. Jal left his family - he was the only one in that age group - and, with thousands of others, set off on foot. When they reached the Nile, the children were herded onto a ship. "It capsized.

There were about 300 of us and only 60 survived," says Jal.

He remembers swimming through the boat's engine room. "I came out alive. I don't know how I survived.

Most of my friends died. I saw dead bodies floating in the water. We made a raft. There were hippos in the water and if they came up underneath the raft and somebody fell off, they would kill them."

The children got back to shore and there were emotional scenes as friends and family, who had heard about the tragedy, rushed to see if their children were still alive. Jal's mother didn't come. "Then, I knew she must have died," he says.

The children were made to keep walking. "It wasn't easy. If you were tired, you'd be left behind. Wild animals were feeding on us. I would hear a sound in the bush and then a scream up the line in front of me.

"We were so thirsty but when we reached a place where there was water, children drank too much and died."

After two months of walking, they reached Ethiopia and the refugee camp. "We were thousands of children living together. We didn't know what had happened to our families.

"There were so many of us, I didn't feel alone. After a while, the SPLA came to ask if we wanted to be soldiers and we didn't refuse - most of us had the bitterness inside to fight the government. It's easy to convince a kid to be a soldier. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.