Peace activist-Afro-hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal pictured in Toronto to talk about his new disc See Me Mama on August 7, 2012. (Michael Peake/QMI Agency)
From a South Sudanese child soldier at age eight in the late '80s -- carrying an AK-47 that was taller than his small body -- to addressing G20 leaders this past June, peace activist-Afro-hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal has seen the lowest of lows and the highest of highs.
Through it all music has been his therapy, says the 32-year-old rapper, currently dividing his time between Toronto and South Sudan with his fourth album, See Me Mama, released this past Tuesday.
"What I always wanted to do when I was a kid was to speak out and help people which I continue to do afterwards," said Jal earlier this week. "I was doing music as a form of therapy, to help me, but later it became a tool for me to speak more."
Jal eventually fled South Sudan with other ex-children soldiers - the so-called "lost boys," and arrived in Waat, where he was adopted by British aid worker Emma McClune, who smuggled him to Kenya, and he eventually went to school in Nairobi.
Sadly, McClune died in a road accident, and Jal found himself living in the slums.
"Music became the pain killer," said Jal, wearing a t-shirt with tuxedo-wearing Kermit the Frog on it, although he's never even heard of The Muppets. "It's the only thing that can touch your heart, your mind, your soul, without your permission and influence. And so what it has done for me, it has healed me in a way, so nightmares, all those things, have begun to leave. It happened over time. The worries, the feelings, self-pity and all of these things, disappear. "
Jal released his first album in 2004 and Peter Gabriel said he had "the potential of a young Bob Marley". A documentary was also made about his life story, and he published his memoir Warchild in 2009.
See Me Mama is named after the title track about his real mother, who was killed by government forces when he was seven, but he says he was raised by about 14 consecutive women along the way who made it possible for him to be alive.
"It was a difficult life, but I survived," he said.
But the toughest new song for Jal to write and perform was Little Naomi, about a little girl repeatedly raped by her alcoholic father who threatened to kill her mother if she told.
Jal says he'll probably never perform it live.
"Little Naomi is somebody, really, really close to me, so it's actually a true story but I can't talk about them," he said. "We just put the name to be Little Naomi so that they are protected. They know the song. It's sad but she feels happy that the song is written because it's going to speak out on behalf of many people. It was a difficult experience. Her life is destroyed, basically. If your dad do that to you as a young girl, you're finished."
Meanwhile, See Me Mama's first single, We Want Peace, has a star-studded video that features such celebrities as Alicia Keys and Jimmy Carter, and is part of his worldwide campaign that's also been supported by George Clooney and Nelson Mandela.
"We wanted to put a spotlight in Sudan again before it split (from North Sudan)," said Jal of the impressive clip. "Because I believe that when you put a spotlight in a dark place, the evil perform less...When the world didn't know, 2.5 million died."