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War Child Emmanuel Jal Comes Downtown to Tell His Life Story

By LaTanya Rene
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at 01:27PM
Emmanuel Jal

“I am led by my spirit,” says ex-child soldier turned hip hop artist, Emmanuel Jal. How amazing that in the middle of the Sudanese war between Arabs and Muslims, the Christian-raised Jal managed to survive being a child of war as one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” to singing gospel in Kenyan churches. Amid unspeakable terror, Jal lived out his childhood in a war torn country with an AK-47 in his hands and rage in his heart. Friday, he comes Downtown to share his story at Metropolis Books.

With the help of a British aid worker, Emma McCune, Jal escaped to Kenya. Excited about attending school for the first time, Jal still found it frustrating to deal with the other children – children who had never experienced the complete devastation of war. He turned to music, singing in churches. The church would prove to be the breeding grounds for creating his own version of hip hop, a far cry from the American gangsterism for which hip hop is infamous. Radio play in Africa and the UK led Jal to be invited to grace the stage of the world’s largest concert in 2005, Live 8.

War Child is his theme, and the title of his life story, "War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story." Through the therapy of his music, Jal comes alive, rising from his desolate upbringing in the Sudanese desert where he was separated from his family, his tribe, his land. The acclaimed album, award-winning documentary and now book of the same name open with the startling truth: “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survived for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.”

Jal’s experience propels him into activism. He is a spokesman for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign. He has set up the Gua Africa charity and is eating one meal a day in efforts to raise money to build a school, the Emma Academy, in his village of Leer located in southern Sudan.

Hear Emmanuel Jal on Friday, March 27th, 2009 from 6-8pm at Metropolis Books, 440 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. Copies of his book and album will be available. More information about Jal can be found on his website.

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