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Child of conflict brings a message of hope

by Archives March 3, 2009

WATERLOO (CUP) – Emmanuel Jal thinks he is about 29-years-old. Born into war-torn Sudan, Jal is not sure of his exact date of birth.
This is actually not all that uncommon for those born in the 1980s, a time of civil war, violence, and chaos in southern Sudan. Growing up in the centre of conflict has left him with one hell of a story to tell.
This fact is unavoidable when one realizes Jal is currently touring to promote his album, book, and documentary, all of which share the title WARchild.
“In Africa, music was used as a way of recording history,” the hip-hop star said.
Jal has carried this tradition with him to London, England and now uses his hip-hop to record his own history.
Stopping only for a night in Waterloo, Ontario, Jal still manages to fit in a screening of his documentary, a short musical performance, and a book signing.
Impressed? Now imagine doing all of that on only one meal a day.
Sitting down to discuss his life, Jal is struggling through his 78th day living on one third of the food that he normally consumes. Jal started this fast of sorts to raise awareness for his charity, Gua-Africa.
While I have the pleasure of sipping on tea, Jal simply sips on warm water. “I’m feeling weak today. I normally have energy, which I save to use for important things,” he said, explaining that he had lost 13 kilograms since beginning of the fast.
He is trying to raise funds to build a school in his hometown in Sudan. Despite the headaches and weakness, Jal insists on talking about his various projects in the hopes that this article will help spread the word about his cause.
Jal’s third album, WARchild, is a decisively personal artwork, with unmistakable political and spiritual overtones. This work of art serves to remind us that hip-hop is about music, expression, and art – not sex, bling, and glorified violence.
Jal expresses frustration over the loss of true hip-hop. “It’s the image that has been built by the system . . . sex and violence sells.”
He uses his art to convey this message to the North American rap scene, focusing on one rapper specifically.
His song “50 Cent” is not by any means a hateful attack on the rapper. It is, however, a powerful and focused critique of the messages and lifestyles that 50 glorifies.
Later that day, Jal hosts a screening of his documentary at The Princess Twin, where he also signed copies of his memoir.
Jal, clearly fatigued from his lack of nutrients, introduces the packed theatre to his film very simply, suggesting everything we would need to know about it would soon be unveiled.
Sniffles from people choking back tears fill the theatre. Jal, who returned home to his village in Sudan for the first time in over 15 years for the making of the documentary, brings us with him as he relives the trauma of his past, and confronts the injustice that still weighs heavily on his mind.
On the topic of his book, Jal warns future readers of the detail that went into it. He admits to the audience that the release of such painful memories actually induced nosebleeds for him for a month straight.
Jal’s love for the woman who rescued him from the atrocious, revenge-driven life of a child soldier was shared with us at the end of the night when he performed the last song from his album, called “Emma.”
Ultimately, the WARchild triplets offer us a chance to educate ourselves about a part of the world that is all too often ignored. Jal hopes that educating the West about those suffering in Africa will, in turn, bring education to Africans.
He feels that education can prevent war and change Africa permanently for the better.
“When you are not educating people, there will always be conflict,” he told the eager audience. “The reason Europe is what it is now, is because of education.”
Passion and love, when translated into education and awareness, can change the lives of many, and Jal hopes to be living proof of this.

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