At Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert, Peter Gabriel called him an artist "with a potential of a young Bob Marley."
Jal was born in Southern Sudan in the early 1980s. When he was about 7, he was sent to Ethiopia, to be trained to fight in the Sudanese civil war. For nearly five years, he was a child soldier, put into battle carrying an AK-47 that was taller than him. By the time he was 13, Jal was a war veteran and had seen hundreds of fellow boys reduced to taking unspeakable measures as they struggled to survive on the battlefields and in the desert. After a series of harrowing events, he was rescued by a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who smuggled him into Nairobi to raise him as her own. Tragically, his newly found mother died in a car accident a year later.
To help ease the pain of his past, Jal started singing. In 2005 he released his first album, Gua, with the title track broadcast by BBC across Africa and becoming a No. 1 hit in Kenya. Gua also earned him a spot on Bob Geldof's "Live 8" concert in the UK. His next album, Ceasefire, was recorded in collaboration with established Northern Sudanese singer Abdel Gadir Salim. For the first time, musicians from the north and the south of Sudan came to explore their common ground. Emmanuel Jal's latest album, Warchild, was released in May 2008 and was recognized by the U.S. National Public Radio as one of the top 10 African albums of that year.
Despite his accomplishments in music, Jal's biggest passion is for Gua Africa. Besides building schools, the nonprofit provides
scholarships for Sudanese war survivors in refugee camps, and sponsors education for children in the most deprived slum areas in Nairobi. For almost a year now, Jal has been eating one meal a day in his campaign to build a school in Leer, Southern Sudan, where Emma McCune is resting.
Emmanuel Jal's music can be heard in the movie Blood Diamond, the National Geographic documentary God Grew Tired of Us and in three episodes of ER. He has been featured in Time Magazine, USA Today, the Washington Post, Newsweek.com, and on NPR, CNN, Fox, MTV, and the BBC. Jal is a spokesman for Amnesty International and Oxfam, has done work for Save the Children, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Christian Aid and other charities, and has his own charitable foundation, Gua Africa.
A documentary about Jal's life, War Child, premiered to acclaim at the February 2008 Berlin Film Festival and the April 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. His autobiography under the same name was published in the UK and the United States in the early 2009.
Jal has won worldwide acclaim for his unique style of hip hop with its message of peace and reconciliation born out of his experiences as a child soldier.
His music can be heard alongside Coldplay, Gorillaz, and Radiohead on the fundraising "Warchild - Help a Day in the Life" album, and on John Lennon's "Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur" amongst the likes of U2, REM and Lenny Kravitz.
Despite his accomplishments in music and film, one of Jal’s biggest passions is Gua Africa, the charity he has founded to work with individuals, families and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty. Besides building schools, the charity provides scholarships for Sudanese war survivors in refugee camps and sponsors education for children in the most deprived slum areas in Nairobi.
Gua Africa is now fundraising to complete phase 2 of Emma Academy, the education centre in Leer named after the British aid worker Emma McCune who rescued Jal from a life as a child soldier. In the outbreak of violence in South Sudan since Decemeber 15th 2013, Gua has changed its focus to keeping its existing schools open and ensuring their teachers are paid and students are safe.
In December 2010, Jal released “We Want Peace,” as part of the wider campaign of the same name calling for peace, protection and justice for all in Sudan ahead of the January 2011 referendum, but also calling for an end to all conflicts affecting innocent people around the world. The campaign was supported by A-list artists and leading figures from diverse fields, including Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keys, George Clooney, Richard Branson, President Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and many more. In 2012 he organized and hosted the first of its kind Peace Dinner and Concert in Juba, South Sudan on International Peace Day, supported by H.E Dr. Riek Marchar, Vice President of South Sudan alongside legendary US hip hop artist DMC.
Through his peace movement We Want Peace Emmanuel Jal is working alongside African artists such as Juliani (Kenya), Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), and Syssi Mananga (Congo Brazzaville) to spread passion and awareness about Afrcia’s at risk elephant population. Through the new campaign Stand For Elephants, these artists have released the new peace anthem TUSIMAME (Let’s Stand) now available on iTunes and Mdundo.
Jal still undertakes his Lose to Win Challenge, which sees him raising funds for Gua Africa, Africa Yoga Project and My Start for Windle Trust International.