Emmanuel Jal’s childhood was taken from him, but he still does all he can to ensure he can give back.
The former child soldier – he was forced to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army at the age of seven – is making a difference through music and with his Moss Park-based Jal Gua Café. Despite the early hardships he faced, Jal manages to remain positive and to spread that positivity to those he encounters.
“I had to grow up right away,” he said of his past. “You have to learn to cook for yourself, learn to kill, learn to survive. Your father’s not there, your mother’s not there. Your gun becomes your father.”
Fortunately, Jal was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape his forced service. Along the way, he lost most of his family in the war in Sudan (now South Sudan) and saw many of his friends die of starvation and dehydration.
Eventually, British aid worker Emma McCune smuggled him to Kenya where he was finally able to start living a more normal life.
Now settled in Canada, he is spreading a message of peace and love through his activism and music, and collaborations with such stars as Alicia Keys and Nelly Furtado have brought his sound to new audiences. Often fusing hip hop with African beats, Jal’s songs are rooted in positivity.
“I write music that can make me feel better,” he said. “I feel the music you listen to, you become that, so I want to write about peace.”
Jal’s memoir, War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story and a documentary film based on his life recount his story, though he is now far more focused on his current life as a musician, poet and entrepreneur.
His café at 175 Queen St. E. offers healthy food based in part on Jal’s own dietary and health needs.
“I can’t eat a lot of things, but everything in here, I can eat,” he said.
Jal Gua Café offers more than food; it’s also an event space where many of the bookings are for philanthropic causes. An upcoming event hosted by his former music manager, longtime Scarborough resident Cari Flammia, will allow people to drop off used bras which will be donated to Free the Girls, an organization that helps women escaping from sex trafficking.
Flammia’s event is part of the Beatitudes Movement, an organization she founded when she wanted to find ways to give back.
“Four years ago, I was looking for a place to donate used bras and it’s hard to find places that will take them,” she said. “I learned about Free the Girls, which works with women rescued from the sex trade in Mozambique, Uganda and El Salvador, so I got a bunch of friends together and we collected 125 bras.”
The bra donation, slated to take place from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4, will also feature live music and guest speakers. For more information on the event, visit www.facebook.com/beatitudesmove
Article: City Centre Mirror