By Barney Rowntree
BBC Radio 1Xtra
Emmanuel Jal was only eight when he learnt to fire a gun. By the age of 12 he was fighting on the front line of Sudan's 21-year civil war. He once contemplated cannibalism to survive starvation and drought.
Jal is now one of Kenya's best-known musicians and wowed the British crowd earlier this month when he sang at the Africa Calling concert as part of the Live 8 campaign to end poverty in Africa.
Jal uses music to recover from his experiences
In his hit song Gwaa, he sings: "I can't wait for that day when I'll see no more fears, no more tears, no cry.
"No tribalism, no racism in my motherland when my people go back home to their motherland Sudan."
Now 25, Jal was only four when war broke out in southern Sudan.
The predominantly Christian and animist southern rebels fought the Muslim, northern government, which wanted to impose Islamic Sharia law.
After his mother died, Jal was rounded up with thousands of young children by the SPLA rebels and ordered off to school in Ethiopia. As the fighting intensified Jal set off with thousands of other children towards Ethiopia - a journey of some 600km.
"Some of us were eaten by wild animals. There was not enough water - when we got water, some would dive into the water and drink and they died because they drank too much water," he says.
When they reached Ethiopia, Jal and thousands of children were taken into refugee camps.
The camps offered food, safety and schools for the children. But the camps also acted as a recruiting ground for the SPLA.
"Most of us volunteered because we had seen our villages burnt down, our cattle destroyed and some of them had seen their mothers killed," he says.
Jal and the other children used to sneak off during the day to be trained and he was taught how to fire an AK47.
"Before you fire you are always scared but after you fire the gun you become so brave. Young people don't know that you only die once," he says.
In 1991 a civil war broke out in Ethiopia.
Jal and thousands of Sudanese children were driven back into Sudan by the fighting.
Jal joined SPLA forces in southern Sudan massing for an assault on the government stronghold of Juba. It is a memory that still haunts him.
"What I was afraid of were the helicopter gunships. They were so terrifying."
He does not remember if he killed anyone but death surrounded him.
"I never knew that someone can die and go for good. I just thought they were sleeping and they will wake up later," he says.
As the fighting intensified, Jal and some 400 other soldiers deserted the front line.
Southern Sudanese hope the war is now over
They headed north, crossing minefields and avoiding wild animals as well as government troops, all in a 40-degree heat.
For some three months they wandered without food and water.
"We got to a place where there was not enough food and other soldiers were forced to eat the flesh of their fellow soldiers. I was almost forced to eat a dead body," he recalls.
Jal was one of only a dozen who made it alive to the town of Waat.
Smuggled in suitcase
It was here that Jal - 13 years old and barely taller than the rifle he was carrying - met British aid worker Emma McCune.
She was married to senior SPLA official Riek Machar, who happened to be related to Jal.
Ms McCune was alarmed at Jal's condition and the use of child soldiers. She smuggled Jal to Kenya in a suitcase.
Jal won over the British crowd with his sheer energy
Jal and Ms McCune became inseparable in Nairobi and she enrolled him in school. But a few months later Ms McCune died in a car crash.
After this latest trauma, Jal turned to music to help heal his soul.
"Music came because of an appreciation to God and the dreams I had, so when I write songs to God I can find peace," Jal says.
He became involved in Nairobi's music scene, performing at benefit concerts for street children and he started to talk about his time as a child soldier.
His first album Gwaa has been at the top of the Kenyan charts for the last eight months.
The single features him rapping in English, Swahili, Arabic and the Sudanese languages of Dinka and Nuer.
"It's a very powerful song. The response we got when we played it on the radio was amazing," says DJ Moz.
"Jal has opened a door for many young Sudanese artists. His song Gwaa is so real."
After Emma McCune died, her mother and some of her friends, including journalist Peter Mosynski, became Jal's guardians. He now acts as Jal's manager.
"His own life story is a history of triumph over adversity - his message is a universal message of hope for everybody," Mr Mosynski says.
This year Jal is set to release a new album called Ceasefire. It's a collaboration with Abdel Gadir Salim, a Muslim musician from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
It's an album that calls for a lasting peace in Sudan following the peace deal signed in January 2005.
Although the Live 8 concert was part of calls for more aid, Jal does not see that as the answer to Africa's problems.
"Nineteen years I have been reliant on aid. How long is Africa going to depend on aid?" he asks.
"Our leaders have failed us, causing corruption. If arms control would be done and fair trade promoted, then in 20 years' time we will celebrating the end of poverty in Africa. They had the concerts, their hearts are still open, what are you going to do?"
Soldier Boy was be broadcast on BBC Radio 1Xtra at 1630 GMT on Wednesday 27 July. You can also hear it online at the 1Xtra website.