Musician Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier, to play Windsor

A Toronto-based hip hop artist who escaped the life of a child soldier in Sudan about 15 years ago, will be performing his music at Windsor's Beer Exchange Thursday night.

Jal escaped four years of being a child soldier in 1991

Emmanuel Jal performs at Sounds of the Season in the Glenn Gould Studio. (Tanja Tiziana/CBC)

A Toronto-based hip hop artist who escaped the life of a child soldier in Sudan about 15 years ago, will be performing his music at Windsor's Beer Exchange Thursday night. 

"Let them put their dancing shoes on and get insurance, because I'm going to break their legs," said Emmanuel Jal when asked what Windsorites should expect from his show. "Don't freak out, I'm not going to be violent, I'm saying, come let's have fun." 

Jal, who was just nominated for Juno World Album of the Year, said he uses his music to tell stories and for social and emotional learning. He also uses music to support causes he believes in. 

"I use music for activism," said Emmanuel Jal. "I use my music to support the causes I believe in."

The proceeds from Jal's latest album Called "The Key is E" will be going to fund small business owners that have a direct impact on children's lives 

Jal has also set up a charity called Go Africa that works with people and their families to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty. 

Jal has also addressed the United Nations and the United States Congress. 

He also appears in the Reese Witherspoon movie, The Good Lie, which was released last fall.

In it he plays one of the so-called "lost boys," an orphaned Sudanese refugee who fled the civil war.

Getting into the music scene 

Jal said it was hearing Puff Daddy's song "Jesus My Best Friend" while on a Kenyan bus that inspired him to start writing songs. 

Then one of his songs started getting attention and threw him into the spotlight of the hip hop world before he was really ready. 

"I didn't have the skills for live performance, lyrically I was not ready ... I did not know things were going to turn this way," explains Jal. 

"I think music discovered me, I'd say accidentally," he said. "I never planned to be a musician ... I became a musician not because I wanted it, I was doing it for fun." 

Escaping life as a child soldier, moving to Toronto 

Emmanuel Jal poses for a portrait during press day for "The Good Lie" at Le Montrose Hotel in Los Angeles. In the film, Jal portrays Paul, the quick-learning adult member of a surviving trio of adopted brothers who are relocated to Kansas City, separated from their sister who was dispatched to Boston. He's joined on screen by fellow former Sudanese refuge Ger Duany and British actor Arnold Oceng, who plays the group's de-facto chief tasked with reuniting the family in America. ( Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

Jal has documented his early years in a memoir call War Child: A Soldier's Story

"The rebel movement that was fighting for freedom, collected many children and convinced the parents that they're going to go to school in Ethiopia," explained Jal.

"Going to Ethiopia was not an easy journey, a lot of kids died of starvation on the way, some of dehydration, some were eaten by wild animals, some got sick and couldn't make it, and crossing the rivers wasn't easy because there were crocodiles."

He said the experience of witnessing such harsh things at seven years old was overwhelming. 

When Jal and the children who survived the journey made it to Ethiopia they were put in school for a while, then they started being trained as soldiers. 

"The battlefield is not a place for children," said Jal. "Or even a child to be taught how to use a gun is not the right thing.

"Some of those children have seen the worst. Some have seen their parents being raped in front of them, their families destroyed."

Jal was trained as a child soldier for four years, and managed to escape in 1991. An escape was planned by 200-400 young people and some adults. Out of those only 16 survived, said Jal. 

"The lowest point I've ever been in a struggle, maximum pain one can fulfill," said Jal. 

He met a British aide worker who took him in and put him in school. 

"I was disarmed," said Jal. "That was the turning point in my life." 

Once he launched his music career he moved to the United Kingdom, and then immigrated to Toronto. 

"Canada said, 'Can you feed yourself, can you take care of yourself if you come here.' and I said, 'Yes.'"


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