As threat of war and genocide plague Southern Sudan, native rapper Emmanuel Jal is fighting back through music
I was born in the time where my country was at war. And I’ve seen my village torn. When I was eight, I left my home to become a child soldier. At one point, I escaped and I ended up in a place called Waat, where I met a British aid called Emma, and she smuggled me to Kenya. My past still affects me up to now, but what still keeps me going is my past. What I’ve experienced gives me the survival guilt that I cannot just keep quiet when I know that I’m still a refugee.
I brought my neighborhood to the world through hip-hop and that’s how I’ve been telling the story. I’m inspired by American hip-hop. People like Tupac talked about American problems. You go to Public Enemy, Run DMC and all of those guys—the old school who begun and talked about their neighborhoods. They did not know who they were talking to; they know they were not talking to America. They were talking to an entire place. This music is close to the village. It took me 10 years to learn [hip-hop] and develop the art.
I’m going to Sudan to vote [on January 9], but my vote is forced. It’s not my choice; it’s the system. When you have options you have to choose what is best for you. What is best for me is to vote for succession because I [would] vote for unity but then they go, ‘No, you are a slave; a sub-human species.’ Nothing is gonna change. Genocide has happened all the time in Sudan, but nobody was able to cover it, so we came up with this idea with my producer and co-writer Roachie. We Want Peace is a campaign to raise awareness, so when we did the song, we sent it to Peter Gabriel. [He] loved it and he introduced it to Rick Eldridge. And Alicia Keys said, ‘I’m ready to support it.’ The celebrity endorsements that are coming in—we got Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and [George] Clooney appearing and there’s so much support from UK artists. We’re putting light into south Sudan, so that the world can know and see what they can do. –As told to Niki McGloster