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Genre-straddling African Christian gospel rapper Emmanuel Jal was born in the village of Tong (sometimes spelled Tony) in southern Sudan around 1980. His mother died when he was still a young child of seven or so, and Jal was forced into a Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) military training camp in Ethiopia, where he was trained to be a soldier, participating in military battles before he was even a teenager. Eventually he left Ethiopia and made the dangerous, grueling journey across Sudan to Waat, which was near his Upper Nile home. From there he was smuggled by his mentor and protector Emma McCune into Nairobi, Kenya. Following McCune's death, Jal became one of the millions displaced by Sudan's violent civil war. McCune's friends and associates saw to it that Jal received an education, and he was able to attend Tala Academy. He began singing around 1998, and was soon active in his local church choir, and formed numerous musical groups, including the Reborn Warriors, his current gospel hip-hop band. He produced a single, "All We Need Is Jesus," and an album, Gua, the title track of which was a number one hit in Kenya. Jal collaborated with Abdel Gadir Salim, a Sudanese Moslem musician, for the album Ceasefire, which was released in 2005, and included a re-recording of "Gua." Since Jal was from the south of Sudan, and Salim was from the north, the collaboration of the two musicians symbolized the kind of unity many have hoped for in the Sudan conflict, and Ceasefire is a major plea for peace and sanity. ~ Steve Leggett
1980 in Tong, Sudan