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Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.

How did child soldier become a hip-hop star?

September 25th, 2009
09:20 PM ET

Before he had even reached his teenage years, Emmanuel Jal had witnessed more horror than most people will see in a lifetime.

As a child soldier in Sudan during the 1980s he learned to fight and kill in training camps masquerading as schools. He still does not know how exactly old he is: only that he was taken from his family at an early age.

In his early teens he was plucked from this living nightmare by a British aid worker. While studying in Kenya he developed a love of music and discovered he had immense ability as a songwriter and performer.

Nowadays he is a successful hip-hop artist with three albums under his belt. His music appeared in the Leonardo DiCaprio move "Blood Diamond" and he took the stage at both "Live 8" and Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations.

But he hasn't forgotten his formative years, using his music as a force for good as he campaigns for peace and children's rights.

What do you want to ask Emmanuel Jal? Send us your questions and we'll put them to him during the show on Monday

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. steve

    inspirational i can say

    September 26, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  2. Kennedy, Birmingham, UK

    As an international artiste, how can you use your position to put a stop to the horror in Darfur?

    September 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  3. Kennedy, Birmingham, UK

    How were you able to put the ugly memories as child soldier behind you to be what you are today?

    September 26, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  4. Greg Seelhorst

    Emmanuel – What is your idea of a solution, or how can you use your music to help end a culture of conflict in many countries on the african continent? How can music about a "war child" transform the hearts and minds of war children if they can't hear it on their local radio station?

    Are you giving back to africa? If so, how?

    September 27, 2009 at 9:55 am | Reply
  5. Boby Joseph

    Emmanuel- I am not sure if you alone or many others together can prevent child soldiers being recruited. However, is there a way you can inspire those who are presently those soldiers to leave that and run to make it to similar dreams or their dreams, can you inspire them in their language ( meaning the way they understand not literally) to abandon what they have taken up and show them hope that there is life after what they have taken up and it is not the end of the road.

    As far as you are concerned – You are really great and inspirational. Keep it up.

    September 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  6. kamal

    No one should be above the law, particularly if broken twice!!!
    Many people have been or are still being subjected to more suffering than him, but that is no excuse for raping a 13 year old and fleeing justice.
    Even if brought to justice (finally!), he has already enjoyed the past 30 years free- there is no reason NOT to hold him accountable.

    September 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  7. ASIN MARTIN OTIENO

    Jol am a soldier in Kenya and i have been near ua place at the border of south sudan and Kenya Lokichogio. I am very much conversant with the going around in this area. u as a child soldier i agree u have seen alot. Yes ua now the model, star and reference point to all young sudanesse both in Sudan and Kenya. Go go and show them that there is nothing imposible just when u believe u can do it. Encourage those who still are in the boss to show their prowers. We love u

    September 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  8. Onuogu Onyekachi Carl

    Seeing where you are today, did you ever think you did make it this far in life when you were a child soldier. The pictures of yesterday are still fresh in your mind, how or has your music helped you put it behind you? We need to rebuild Africa everybody say's that but not many people do it, what are your plans for Africa?

    September 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  9. Liz

    Wow! I remember seeing the Rwandan child soldiers several years ago and was so emotionally destraught at what I saw on CNN documentary that I screamed out in horror. I can only say that it is a miracle you are at this point today and thanks to the people who were able to bring that miracle about. Good Luck and hopefully more children will be saved.

    September 28, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  10. Sfisompulu

    That's magic

    September 28, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  11. Phil

    HI Emmanual...

    Deep down in your heart do you blame your own people for the tragedies you suffered or do you blame foreign interferance as the root cause of the struggel you faced?

    Thanks and Good Luck!

    Love you CNN, although you protray my fellow muslims as terrorists we still love you and appreciate your coverage on all issues!

    September 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  12. Adolfo

    Emmanuel do you feel that the international community is really fighting against using children as soldiers or they just do not care that much as they say they do?

    September 28, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  13. K'naan

    this guy's ok... but K'naan is amazing

    September 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  14. Damian Stoyanov, Bulgaria

    Emmanuel, a lot of people appreciate what you are doing. God bless you!

    September 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  15. Felipe Santos - Brazil

    Emmanuel, what were the artists, albums and/or works of art (of any form) that helped you overcome the traumas of your childhood? Can you pinpoint a breakthrough moment in your life after Sudan?

    Thank you and peace to you and Africa.

    Felipe

    September 28, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  16. Michael Onyango

    Emmanuel, you are working on your school project for Southern Sudan, however we would also like you go a step furhter and take up a university education, as many of the young people in Sudan look up t you and if you? We would like you to set the pace in this? Whats your position?

    September 28, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  17. khaleel

    greatly appreciated wat u r doing now, Emmanuel !!

    September 28, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  18. ivan, France

    Amazing story...

    I am no fan of hip-hop but that's irrelevant. What's important is that you managed to overcome extensive trauma through art.

    So my question is : have you ever thought of using this 'gift' (not necessarily the actual art – but more the ability to overcome the trauma) to empower more trauma stricken individuals through their potential ?

    Not saying it would be easy.. but it could actually be even more gratifying !

    –Ivan

    September 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  19. ann

    Emmanuel,am so happy that you have risen out of your environment to be what you are todayOur world is so used to making excuses for our young ones and as such they feel they can get away with everything.you will serve as a role model to our youths.let them see they can be whatever they want to be irrespective of the circumstances.please use your song in the words of the legend MICHAEL JACKSON to "HEAL THE WORLD"

    September 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  20. christin harrison

    am proud of emmanuel transformation,and hope others will follow,

    September 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  21. Anthony

    Isn't that what 50 cent has been rappiing about for years? About how he's a "soulja" (soldier)? "hiphpp" is full of these "souljas". lol

    PS if you're reading this, go to pulse87.com – NOW THAT'S MUSIC!

    September 28, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  22. Mohammed Dawood

    Emmanuel, you have been through difficult times, thank god you are in good hands now. Do you intend on helping the UN and other aid workers decipher what goes in on the minds of the child soldiers and how they are being pulled away from their families by force or by brainwashing or maybe lure of money?

    September 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  23. Vaqas Sysstole

    A child soldier? Why make childs soldier? Make them security.

    September 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Reply

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