On Wednesday September 21st a few hundred people gathered at St. Michael’s College Theatre in Toronto to mark the 35th annual United Nations International Peace Day with the *first annual* We Want Peace Concert.
Organizer and activist Emmanuel Jal welcomed the crowd of concerned and caring peacemakers of all ages. A South Sudanese former child soldier, he reaffirmed his deep personal commitment to peace both at home and abroad and was proud to present an evening of like-minded performers and speakers. Before leaving the stage he introduced singer and solo performer Lady Parul. Standing alone on stage, Lady Parul’s jazz-inspired vocals filled the theatre over her atmospheric and ethereal song “Beloved”. Backed by her upright bass player George Chonery, singer/songwriter Kalyna Rakel followed with her powerful anti-human-trafficking song “Please Don’t Sell Those Girls”.
Between musical performances, writer/social analyst Rozan Ahmed hosted a panel discussion between Mariatu Kamara, Preeti Chopra and Hamoon Ekhtiari, each bringing to the audience their unique relationships with peace as a concept and lived experience. Born into and having escaped war, Hamoon presented his vision of audacious peace through innovation. A survivor of unimaginable sexual violence, Preeti shared how she has coped and flourished since gaining the confidence to share her story. Finally, Mariatu revealed a harrowing account of having both arms amputated and fending overnight in the wilderness after a group of child soldiers attacked her village. The breadth of tragedy of across the panel, and the commitment to peace in response was remarkable and inspiring.
The evening concluded will a full performance from Emmanuel Jal and his six-piece backing band. Running through hit songs from his albums The Key and See Me Mama, as well as some spoken word moments, Emmanuel had the crowd on their feet singing and dancing most of his entire hour-long set. Interspersed between songs, Emmanuel told his only story of near death moments as a soldier to being rescued and being able to reclaim a childhood. For “Dusu”, the final song of the night, Emmanuel invited all he children in attendance on stage to join him in dance and celebration.
Sponsored in part by World Vision Canada, and with the support of vendors such as Matthew House and Emmanuel’s own Jal Gua Cafe, the concert was a huge success. After the doors let out, patrons were able to meet and mingle with the presenters, purchase music, books, juices and fireballs, as well as sign up for World Vision sponsorship packages. Proceeds from the event were directed to Gua Africa to support education initiatives in Kenya and South Sudan.