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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February 2005, 16:44 GMT
From child soldier to rap superstar
Emmanuel Jal
Jal escaped after four years as a child soldier
A Sudanese former child soldier who has become a chart-topping rap star in Kenya is set to launch his first album, calling it a "prayer for peace."

Emmanuel Jal, who fought in the south of Sudan 12 years ago - having been trained to use a gun at the age of eight - hit number one in the Kenyan charts earlier this month.

Now he is following up that success with a new album - launched this weekend in the capital Nairobi - entitled Gua.

"It's a sort of prayer for peace in my motherland," Jal told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"There has been war, so it's talking about if there was peace in my land, it would be so good everyone would come back home, there would be no tribalism, no racism, no girls being forced to marry, no child soldiers."

Healing music

Jal is originally from southern Sudan, where he was trained to fight for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the civil war that raged for many years before the recent peace agreement.

He survived frontline action after a dramatic and traumatic escape from the rebels' ranks, finally making it to Nairobi, where he currently lives.

He first started making rap songs shortly after he arrived, in his late teens - having no knowledge of music at all.

Child soldier being trained to use a gun
I remember clearly how people used to die; how the tanks used to crush people, how the helicopters used to come and chase us
Emmanuel Jal
"I found that music helped with healing my soul, and all the trauma that I've gone through," he said.

His music often features lyrics detailing experiences as a child soldier.

Jal was among thousands of young people collected by the SPLA in 1987. Their parents were told they were to be sent to schools in Ethiopia.

"When we reached Ethiopia, we actually went to school - but only for a while," Jal said.

"Then we were trained how to use guns."

Jal was first trained to use gun at age of eight, and sent to the front line three years later.

"I remember clearly how people used to die; how the tanks used to crush people, how the helicopters used to come and chase us," he recalled.

But in his fourth year as a child soldier, he escaped.

"I had a desire to study... as a young person you get convinced by whatever idea comes into your mind," he told Outlook.

"We decided, with some friends, to do it - and we escaped."

The friends thought their journey would take one month - in fact it took three months to complete just half of it, because of minefields and ambushes in enemy territory.

Helping others

The group ate dry maize to survive. Jal said many died on the journey.

"There was no water for them to drink," he explained.

"Other friends, soldiers told me what other soldiers did was put their guns at the head of their fellow soldiers to force them to urinate in a cup so they would drink.

Former child soldiers studying
Jal hopes to put his earning into helping other child soldiers study
"But none of them survived who did that.

"When we saw many skeletons and skulls, it was a sign that we were all going to die - there was no water there.

"Other soldiers would just shoot themselves and die. So I prayed to God, if he existed, to provide water for us - and it rained during the dry season."

Jal is now planning to put his earnings from his musical career towards raising funds for other child soldiers, to allow them to have an education.

He also hopes to help some of the worst-off in Kenya, his adopted home.

"Kenya has been nice to me, and there are many others suffering, like the street children," he added.

"So I must admit I would also like to supply somewhere for them."

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