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20 août 2008

Child soldier turned rap star brings message of hope

by Nick Lewis, Calgary Herald, Published: Friday, August 08, 2008

He was just seven when he was plucked from his family and forced to become a child soldier. Handed an AK-47 that was taller than he was, by age 11, he had already been a veteran of two civil wars in the killing fields of Sudan.

Escaping after five years of unimaginable atrocity and poverty, Emmanuel Jal learned to sing and rap as a means of catharsis, he says. Today, after moving to England he is a prolific rapper with a critically acclaimed album named War Child and is the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name. His profile went global earlier this summer when he stole the show from the likes of Queen and Peter Gabriel at the huge London birthday concert for Nelson Mandela. He is now in Calgary to perform at this weekend's Afrikadey! festival.

But Jal is doing much more to make his presence felt in Calgary. He has a number of speaking engagements in the city, and is even taking the time to talk to expatriot Sudanese locked in local prisons, hoping to steer them on a course that can benefit their birthland.

"I was born in difficult times and I've seen horrific things," the 28-year-old says softly.

"How did I survive? How did I make the most of what was given to me? I want to talk to them and tell them they need to take responsibility, to help their families back home. A door has been opened for them and they need to go through it. Their people need them. The people back home haven't been educated because there are no schools, so they're the ones who will one day run the country. They're the future, and if they fail, they're failing their country and betraying their people."

While Peter Gabriel told the Wembley Stadium crowd on Mandela's birthday that Jal has the potential of a young Bob Marley, Afrkiday! artistic director Tunde Dawodu believes Jal has the potential of a young Mandela. Which is why he flew to London to convince the rapper to perform at this year's festival...


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