Scott Gries/Getty Images
By age 13, Emmanuel Jal had fought in two civil wars. Now he's working to banish the demons — with music, activism, a film and a forthcoming book.
Rapper Emmanuel Jal was carrying an AK-47 rifle at 8 years old, as a child soldier conscripted into the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Now he's a rising international music star, with a new album titled Warchild.
Jal was taken from his family at age 7 and sent to fight in Ethiopia and southern Sudan. After nearly five years in the army, he was smuggled into Kenya with the help of a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who later adopted him. Since then, he has lived in Kenya and the United Kingdom.
Jal tells Terry Gross that part of the SPLA regimen was designed to deaden child soldiers' feelings.
"You see the training that we were given, it kind of kills feelings," he says. "You just obey commands, and that's all. It's like we are kind of like robots, in a way."
He told Britain's Independent newspaper this year that some of those emotional baffles remain, saying that a reunion with his father after years left him unmoved.
"I wanted to feel a connection with him, but my heart is cold," Jal told The Independent. "A cold heart is my protection mechanism. I don't really feel anything for anyone."
On his 2005 album, Ceasefire, Jal raps in four languages: Arabic, English, Swahili and Nuer. His music has been featured on television and in film, including the soundtrack for the movie Blood Diamond. He's also featured in a documentary, War Child, that chronicles his life.
This interview first aired on Oct. 10, 2005.