Emmanuel Jal is South Sudan’s biggest musical export and also one of its proudest campaigners. A former child soldier, he has used his success as a Hip-Hop artist to tirelessly campaign for peace, not just in his home country but around the world. As we discussed with photographer Pete Muller, last week South Sudan celebrated the first anniversary of independence. Jal, who has seen this fledgling nation from two unique and contrasting perspectives took some time to tell us how he sees South Sudan progressing and how he intends to bring people together to fight for a common cause.
A year on, how do you feel that independence is viewed within South Sudan as opposed to by those from outside?
Independence in South Sudan is big. People are able to visit family members whereas they couldn’t before and in this respect the situation is much better than before. Some areas people are celebrating it every day in tears of joy but in some areas people don’t understand what independence means and in some areas people are upset about the government.
A new nation is like a new baby born in a dangerous jungle where diseases and predators are waiting to strike, before the baby can run it will need to learn how to walk quickly. The current situation is gloomy but the future will be great.
What do young people in the region think about the future?
A lot of people think the future is going to be great and they have hope that tomorrow will be better. The situation has definitely improved and people are beginning to get their lives together.
Has independence got them excited?
Independence got many people excited but after a while a lot felt cheated because some leaders gave in to temptation and a lot of public funds were mismanaged. Personally I feel that the leaders of any society are a reflection of the people. For the country to experience the change the people want to see, it has to begin with the people themselves; good governance and accountability from grassroots level going way up. The president of the country alone will not do much if the people are not looking to carry their country forward. True democracy will be brought by the people.
The problem we have now is when a leader is corrupt he is considered to be wise, but when the leader is honest and wise and plays by the rules and tries to be accountable the people call him weak, until we get this point across it will be difficult to move forward. Dr Riek Machar the Vice President once said for the country to move forward everybody needs to be re-educated: the public, the police, the president and whole cabinet along with the Army and it’s General because every person’s role here is important.
The country is the inspiration of your We Want Peace campaign, how delicate is the situation in South Sudan at present in this sense?
The situation in South Sudan is delicate but the people are aware of it. Many want peace to be maintained because they have finally begun to experience the beauty of peace.
Jal at the recent We Want Peace Rally in Toronto
Do you think the new South Sudanese Government listens to young people?
Young people have not come out to speak loud at their government but what I know is that few individuals including the President listen to young people’s advice when they bring it to them humbly.
What messages do you hope to pass on through your music?
My music is for social emotional learning to raise social awareness and emotional intelligence. Opening the eyes of masses to empathy for all human beings, creating an understanding that we can co-exist in this planet as God’s children.
Am I right in thinking that you currently live in Canada? If so is this influenced more by your music or your activism?
I have not moved to Canada yet. I just set up a record label in Canada to create a way in which my music can come out globally. I’m a nomad I have left my house in London as a challenge to raise money for 3 charities, the first of which is Gua Africa, the charity I founded. It works with families, individuals and communities to help them overcome the effect war and poverty. Secondly there is the My Start project which works in African refugee camps offering creative art workshops to help young people tell their stories through arts. Finally there’s Africa Yoga Project, a charity that does physical therapy through exercise and peace education.
This challenge is called Lose to Win and before I did this and ate one meal a day for 360 days to raise funds for Gua Africa. I asked friends and my supporters through social media to give up something for a short while. I thought it was going to take 30 days but I was humble it took that long. Now I have closed my house down in London until we raise £1.6M for the 3 charities.
Does connecting with a North American fan base significantly help you to be heard internationally?
North Americans are my biggest supporters.
What do you think is the best way to grab people’s attention for the We Want Peace campaign?
People need to know that they have the power to make this world better they also need to know that people are getting killed every day. We Want Peace is about putting light in a dark place, when you put light in a dark place the evil performs less.
Which musician to recently emerge from Africa that has impressed you the most?
For more information about Emmanuel please visit: We Want Peace and Emmanuel Jal.com. Emmanuel’s forthcoming album ‘See Me Mama’ is on worldwide release from October 2nd 2012 through Gatwitch Records.