For South Sudanese rapper Lual D'awol, music can be an act of political defiance. He took the stage at a nightclub in Juba the day after soldiers stormed another venue to stop his performance. On another occasion, his fans had to smuggle him out the back to avoid arrest.
"Hip-hop is a type of music where you talk. You pass messages, and talk about the suffering of the people, and be the voice of the voiceless, basically. I feel like in South Sudan, there's a lot of people who are voiceless, there's a lot of injustice, a lot of unfairness."
Lual is one of South Sudan's most popular rappers. Raised in the United States, he returned to what was then southern Sudan in 2009 in hope of helping the country grow. South Sudan got its independence two years later but has known little besides war, poverty and corruption since. Lual’s lyrics push the boundaries of free speech in a country where perceived government critics have been jailed, beaten or killed. The government banned one of Lual's most popular songs, "Dowla Jadit," from playing on local radio stations. “Dowla Jadit” means “New Nation” in the local Arabic language. In the song, Lual criticizes local officials who he says always reply, “We are a new nation,” as an excuse for the lack of public services like water and electricity. Lual said he received death threats after releasing that song. It is just people trying to rattle me, trying to scare me, and trying to get me to sing things that make no sense, or talk about falseness and fake things that are not really happening, clubbing and what, but that is not the reality in South Sudan. Laul says he now wants to use his music to preach unity. South Sudan is emerging from a 2?-year civil war that has divided the country by tribe. Lual is working on a new album, collaborating with producers and singers from the country’s various ethnicities.
"Music brings people together ... and that is what we need right now, this time of peace and reconciliation. We need to unify, and have that nationhood, that love for South Sudan, you know? Because we are all South Sudanese at the end of the day. And if authorities try to stop Lual from spreading his new message? "I just have to be myself. I cannot change for any intimidation or any fear, because you only live once and I cannot live like a coward. Despite the harassments, Laul is one citizen who’s not giving up on building his new nation.