Sudanese hip-hop musician and humanitarian recounts his time as a child soldier.
In frank, unsparing detail, Jal details his experiences during the early 1980s, when the civil war “grew as I did.” He treasured the limited time he spent with his mother while his father fought for freedom in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). As his township in Bantiu devolved into a bullet-ridden war zone, Jal, his family and countless others traveled from one burned-out village to the next in search of food and shelter. Separated from his mother during a raid, Jal later heard she was dead. When soldiers from the SPLA came to take him to “school” in Ethiopia, he did not protest. What he encountered when he arrived was an area decimated by famine, riddled with death and disease, and devoid of hope. Jal was at an SPLA military training camp, where he was “educated” to become one of the 17,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan,” child soldiers. Carrying an AK-47 that was taller than he was, the boy learned to fight and soon was sent to war. He and other young soldiers killed countless Arabs, but savage conditions eventually forced them to defect. They finally reached the safe haven town of Waat, where Jal was adopted by a British aid worker. In Kenya, he went to school and began singing as therapy. Jal doesn’t gloss over the fact that he emerged from his childhood scarred and angry, the trauma of his time in war rendering him uncertain of places and dates, even his own exact age. Since being thrust into the spotlight as a musician, he has focused his energies on projects aimed at war-torn communities like the ones in which he was raised. A touching reunion with his sister, a studio album and a 2008 documentary about his life make for a happy ending.
Searing portrait of a war-torn youth turned community advocate and role model.