(HER) Sudanese hip hop artist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal participated at last week's three-day African hip-hop conference held at Harvard University. The conference, sponsored by Harvard's Cultural Agents Initiative and the Ford Foundation, drew 38 panelists from 11 countries.
Jal, who was forced to fight in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army from the time he was about six years old until he dramatically escaped the rebel army when he was about 13, sees hip-hop as one avenue to peace, tolerance and literacy for millions of African youth. A practitioner of what he calls "conscious" hip-hop, Jal told the conference, "American hip-hop is still entwined with gang culture, drugs, sexual violence and greed. It's a battleground," he said of the music style's opposing images. Former prime minister of Tanzania Frederick Sumaye, who also attended the conference, agrees with Jal, stating, "Hip-hop can help [Africa]. A music group is not an army, but it can get social messages out before trouble starts."
Jal will see his new album, "Warchild," released on May 13, and on one of the CD's songs, "50 Cent," he calls out to the successful U.S. rapper to take care with his violent messages exemplified by his "Bulletproof" videogame, and how they influence young people. "You have done enough damage selling crack cocaine now you got a kill a black man video game/ There ain't a Jewish or a white man Chinese or an Indian blowing up the brain of their own fellow man / We have lost a whole generation through this lifestyle now you want to put it in the game for a little child to play / Bugga bun 50 Cent." -- From the song "50 Cent" on the album "Warchild"
"I am a great fan of 50 Cent," confessed Jal, "but can't help thinking that the generation that has grown up to respect and love him are not being given the right message. I feel that he could be professing more of a positive influence with his young fans."
Jal's first single, "Gua" - which means "peace" in his native Nuer dialect - became an international hit in 2005 when it was broadcast on the BBC and disseminated across Africa. "Gua" appeared on the the fundraising album "Warchild - Help a Day in the Life," and Jal's music has also been incorporated into Matt Damon's feature film film "Blood Diamond," and on season seven of "ER" "Out of Africa" episodes.
Jal, who doesn't know when he was born or exactly how old he is, learned how to fire a machine gun before he could ride a bike, and lives with the nightmares of the unspeakable things he had to do as a child soldier. When he was about 13, he, along with some 400 other "child soldiers," courageously deserted the rebel lines. Only sixteen made it to the relative freedom of a refugee camp. Jal was one of them.