The tracks on rapper Emmanuel Jal’s major label debut, WARchild, are a bit frenetic, drawing more inspiration from the syncopated rhythms of African pop than the beat-heavy ethic of American hip-hop. The reason is simple: Jal isn’t a product of the concrete jungle, but the actual one.
A native of southern Sudan, Jal was forced into the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) at the age of six. After five years of fighting, he escaped to neighboring Kenya with the aid of a British relief worker, Emma McCune. Now in his late twenties (like many child soldiers, Jal is unsure of his actual age), he is drawing attention for his musical talent as well as his captivating life-story.
At last month’s 46664 concert in London celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday, Peter Gabriel called Jal “a young Bob Marley.”
“[He] came out of the horror of a brutal war, a brutal childhood with a clear voice calling out against violence, hatred and materialism. He’s going to have a huge influence in the world way beyond his music,” said Gabriel.
This is already happening. A documentary about Jal, also titled War Child, has been making the rounds on the international film festival circuit. He has been a spokesman for Amnesty International and the Make Poverty History campaign. He is founder of Gua, a charity devoted to education and sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa.
For more on Emmanuel Jal, read Emily Geminder's profile on Policy Innovations.
photo of Emmanueal Jal at 46664 in London by p_c_w