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From the Winter issue "Africa's Moment"

Emmanuel Jal is a child soldier gone right. Through his music and charitable work, he works tirelessly to help his beleaguered new nation of South Sudan and to prevent another genocide by recruiting “peace soldiers” around the globe to speak out against violence. Born in the heart of one of the most violent corners of the world—southern Sudan—he followed his father into the civil war that broke out in 1983 when he was just three years old. At seven, his mother was slain by government soldiers, and, together with thousands of other children, Emmanuel set off on a tortuous path south to what he hoped would be safety in Ethiopia. He never made it. Recruited by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, he was quickly trained to fight, and, barely large enough to lift the weapon thrust into his hands, he embarked on a four-year crusade “to kill as many Muslims as possible.” Rescued by a British aid worker, he eventually turned to music to express the pain he experienced and find the strength he needs to carry on with his work. Clearly, Emmanuel Jal, who was recently beaten unconscious by police in South Sudan, has found resilience in his music and in his sacrifices. He has set down his music and thoughts for World Policy Journal.  

Lose to Win

By Emmanuel Jal


So much is going on right now

Don’t know what to talk about

Talk about politics, economics, earthquakes?

I don’t know

But all I got to know is

I got to lose to win.

Lose, lose to win.


Lose to win, lose to win. I am losing to win, losing to win.

Lose to win, lose to win. I am losing to win, losing to win.


I care. Do you care? Together, we shall overcome, overcome, overcome.


I am in a campaign called lose to win.

I am out speaking for the causes I believe. I will keep losing till the end.

It sounds strange, quite insane, but it’s driven by the forces that I feel I can change.

Modern day nomad is what I will be, looking for people who can help me.

We battle poverty. We make it a history.


All I got to do is shine some light in the darkness, and I will be alright.

Things don’t seem to be clear right now, ‘cause my reality want me to bow down

I travel the world. I sold my soul not for silver and gold but to tell a story that needed to be told.

Been doing it since I was seven years old. It’s so frustrating, but when this beat drop, I feel no pain.

When this beat drop, I feel no pain. When this beat drop, I feel no pain.

When this beat drop, I feel no pain, because I care.


Many view this world as a threatening place,

So they fear to invest and hide their face. Some choose to bury their head in the sand.

Some grab, some run, some pick a gun.

Should we blame the devil for the human wrong or stand up, speak out, and stand strong.

Sex slave, modern slavery, child girl—eight-years-old—sold on the border of Mexico.


Do you know about the invisible children in Congo lost in wilderness with no safe place to go?

I see our world erupting like a volcano.

With fixable problems that man choose to ignore

Global warming, tell me you don’t

Prices of food are rising up everywhere.

If you care, throw your hands in the air.

If you care, throw your hands in the air.


Sometimes, I feel like I’ve sold my soul by telling my story so many times. Everything about me I’ve said to others, so what have I left for myself? But there’s one song that I turn to whenever I need encouragement: “Lose to Win.”

The song “Lose to Win” came about after I ate just one meal a day for 362 days. At first, I thought I was famous enough to raise a certain amount of money for a charity in one month. It didn’t go that way, but I didn’t give up. I kept on eating one meal a day. It took nearly a year, but we finally raised the funds. But after that, I felt this realization that every person has to find a balance. If your inner side is not strong, then the pressure from outside will diminish you—you might suffer from depression. But if you have too much energy inside, and there’s no balance from the outside, you could explode in anger.

You should always be in balance or close to balance, but it’s hard for someone to stay that way. And so for the “Lose to Win” song, there’s one verse, where I say, “I sold my soul not for silver and gold but to tell a story that needed to be told.” When I’m telling that story, it’s not only my story. It’s not even just South Sudan’s story—it’s much of Africa’s story. It keeps me balanced, reminding me why I’m out there giving myself to people.

Before, I used to think only we in South Sudan were suffering, but when I came to learn more about Africa, I found the whole of Africa is suffering, especially the children. And I came to learn it’s not just Africa; it’s many countries, and their children, that suffer.

I’ll be performing “Lose to Win,” and when I reach that line about selling my soul, it gives me enough energy to achieve balance inside. Sometimes, when you go and tell the story, you’re giving out yourself until you’re left with nothing inside, and you become vulnerable. Anything can hit you. You need to find something to strengthen yourself. — Emmanuel Jal



[Photo courtesy of Paul Williams]

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