On December 2, 2001, Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction flew into The Sudan in North East Africa on a hair-raising mission to rescue men, women and children who had been abducted from their homes in the predominantly Christian south of the country and forced into slavery in the Islam-dominated north. The mission, striking deep into Sudan's civil-war-torn hinterlands, was organised by Christian Solidarity International, a charitable human rights organisation, and funded at least in part by money raised by Jane's Addiction at concerts in the USA. By the end of the mission, eight days later, over 2,000 slaves had been freed.
Aaron Cohen : Perry had the idea that we could go out there when enough slaves are freed and reunited with their families, and have a tribal party in the African bush for them.
Ker Aleu Deng (former slave) : My father died and we were captured and taken to the North by Murahaleen (Baggara Arab) raiders. We lived with Zakaria in a village called Jama Jur. My main work was to look after goats and pick hibiscus leaves for tea. Zakaria was a violent man.
Zakaria blinded me by hanging me upside down from a tree and rubbing chili pepper in my eyes. He left me hanging there for a long time. To add to my misery he lit a fire near me so the smoke would drift into my face. I screamed throughout the ordeal. I thought I would die. Zacharia did this because he said I didn’t do my work properly.
John Eibner (CEO, Christian Solidarity International) : My CSI colleagues and I came face to face with the reality of slavery in Sudan in 1995. The "international community" had failed to address this internationally-recognized crime against humanity out of deference to the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. CSI therefore continued to focus on it. We soon found that there was a grassroots mechanism for liberating enslaved Southern Sudanese and returning them to their home areas, and we decided to support that system in the absence of any other credible alternative. Perry joined us on one of our regular visit to Sudan. We go every two to three months.
Perry Farrell : I was shocked to discover that around the world today there are millions of slaves. It blew my mind.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : I had no involvement with Perry when he first got into the Jubilee issue. I met him three times before the trip to Sudan. I think I first met him when I was invited to speak at an anti-slavery event at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I met him again in Washington at a Senate hearing on slavery. I invited him then to travel with CSI.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : The dates of the trip with Perry were the 2nd to the 9th of December 2001. The slaves were not all freed on the same day. We encountered several groups in different locations.
Perry Farrell : I met my wife when she auditioned for our '97 tour. We dated after that tour and I just couldn't get into her pants. She's very classy, a deep soul and she can dance, man. That's a deadly combination. We'd just started sleeping together after knowing each other for three years. I was about to leave to go to Sudan and she told me she was pregnant. She said it was not OK to have a child and not be married because that's just not the way she wanted to do it, so I called her up at the airport and proposed to her just before I got on the plane and we got married when I got back. Because I went there to free slaves, I felt like I couldn't ask this woman to have an abortion.
Becky Diamond : At the time, I was working for Oxygen Media, a women-oriented network started by Oprah Winfrey (and others). I wanted to cover under-reported stories around the world and was interested in women's issues. I researched various stories that were not covered by traditional news outlets and found out about the plight of Dinka tribeswomen in Southern Sudan. I pitched the story and eventually won a company grant to travel to the Sudan and produce a short documentary on black African/Dinka women and girls who were abducted from their villages and sold into sexual slavery.
I met Perry Farrell in the airport in Geneva. I had flown from NYC to Geneva and he and his colleague Aaron Cohen had flown from LA. We were all going to be travelling onto Kenya and then from there into the Sudan with Christian Solidarity International (CSI) – an aid group that raises money to buy the freedom of women and girls who were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
John Eibner, from CSI who was in charge of the trip, introduced me to Perry at the airport. I had never heard of him and did not know he was a musician. I shook his hand and asked if he was a journalist. Who else would want to fly illegally into Southern Sudan (we had no visas) and spend ten days camping in rebel held territory to investigate this story? He said he was not a journalist and seemed reluctant to give me more information, which of course piqued my interest. I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he was a musician.
I asked him if he wrote music or sang music and he nonchalantly replied that he did both. I sensed that he was a serious artist and I asked if I had heard of anything that he had written and he mentioned the song “Jane Says” and told me he was in the band Jane’s Addiction. I had heard of them and knew the song. I still could not understand for the life of me why he would be travelling to a hostile and remote area in Africa with this aid group (CSI) but he seemed like a guy who beat to his own drum so I figured there would be an interesting story that would unfold.
Perry explained from the beginning that he believed in the idea of redemption and that he and his band (I think it was Porno for Pyros but I am not sure) raised approximately $200,000 to "redeem" or buy the freedom of black African slaves. He wanted to see where and how this money was being spent.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : We chartered small aircraft and flew into Southern Sudan. The flights were not authorized by the Government of Sudan. We landed on primitive dirt airstrips.
Becky Diamond : We flew into rebel held (SPLA) southern Sudan without a visa - so illegally. The Sudanese Muslim government in the north was effectively at war with the black African rebels in the south who wanted their independence. The villagers who hosted us told us that government planes had recently attacked the area. I could not independently verify this but several different villagers described the attacks. While there was no live combat, there was no question that we were in the area of a civil war. There was a constant presence of SPLA soldiers - young men in army fatigues carrying Russian made AK-47's slung over their shoulder. Some had rounds of ammunition looped around their upper bodies like a giant bullet necklace.
Perhaps the most disconcerting part of the trip in terms of safety was the absence of any kind of infrastructure. Forget about hospitals and ER surgeons. There were no paved roads, no medical facilities, no running water or electricity. This area of southern Sudan was the most remote area to which I have ever been (and this includes a trip to rural Afghanistan)! My concern for the group's safety was that if someone got hurt (think broken femur or a bleeding issue), there would be no sounds of an ambulance coming with trained EMTs to give any kind of emergency care.
Finally - there were wild animals roaming around including lions. We walked to many villages and markets on foot. On one trip local villagers told us about a lion that had killed someone nearby. We took flimsy rafts across rivers known to be home to hippos. I hoped only to see these animals in the comfort of a zoo!
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : Perry flew into a combat zone without the permission of the Sudanese state. He could have gotten caught up in a slave raid. At the time Perry traveled there was virtually no medical facilities worthy of the name. If he had caught a serious illness or had been seriously injured, he could have had a very rough time.
Perry Farrell : Actually, I was not scared. I was excited. I was so pissed at what had happened to these people that I was ready to take on anybody who got in our way. I didn’t personally have a gun but we were living in amongst Sudanese rebels and these guys had them. Overhead there were Russian bombers and one of the villages we were in had just been bombed out. There were holes everywhere.
Aaron Cohen : We had to stand under trees, keep an eye out for aircraft and be mindful of death squads – roving groups of black operations, Muhajadin training and Black Ops Oil who would try to protect the oil wells and move tribes off oil-rich land.
Perry Farrell : I thought that the way they (CSI) went about it was amazing. It was a very direct form of charity. I raised money through concerts and I brought the money to where it was needed and there was a hand-to-hand exchange of money for saving lives. There was no middle man. Every penny that we had earned went towards saving lives.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : In the days of the Perry trip, we would pay the Arab retrievers Sudanese currency for the slaves that they brought back.
Aaron Cohen : They’re like the Schindlers of the Taliban, good-hearted men that are willing to risk their lives to bring slaves from the north and bring them south across the frontline of the civil war.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : We did not pay in advance and hope that they bring back slaves. It generally cost between $30-50 to redeem one slave, after which they return to their home areas to find their relatives. This is done through the network of chiefs.
Aaron Cohen : Eibner created a list of missing persons. His agents would go to the North and find the slaves, buying them or taking them through coercion, 300-500 at a time. They’re held in a staging area pre-established by John.
Slaves are congregated into a refugee camp and processed (fingerprinted, interviewed and deposed) before being moved south to be reunited with their families.
At the end of all the paperwork, we announce that today is a happy day, a day of Launum. Launom is the word in Indica for freedom. Dr Eibner got up in front of the group and announced this.
Perry Farrell : The first time my eyes came in contact with them, I would say there were 500 to 1,000 people who came rushing out of these bushes to meet us. They didn't know exactly who we were. They assumed we might be their new slave owners.
So here were all these people who had nothing. Human beings who were made to be slaves. When you see that, it feels like you're living in a big epic movie. But I knew the story had a happy ending.
Aaron Cohen : It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. We had these people who were being released after six, seven, eight years in slavery. And they are with their mothers for the first time since being enslaved. Everyone was crying and hugging. What they wanted to do at that moment was dance and sing. And that's what they did.
Perry Farrell : I went to Circuit City and I picked this horrific looking monster boom box from heaven. It had scratching capabilities, a beat box, and a mic plug. I brought my own CDs and DJ-ed on the fly or under a tree. And these cats, they never heard electronic music before. They all had these puzzled looks on their faces, and were looking at me like 'Who the heck is this guy?' But I just kinda shook it for a little bit, then everyone started to laugh, and then they got into it.
Perry Farrell : The most important thing I brought there – aside from the money – was music. We would do these redemption parties. I brought a huge boombox. I went to a Radio Shack and brought back a cool boombox that let you mix two CDs and a microphone.
A lot of them wouldn’t have heard recorded music. Little kids were jumping up and down and rushing. A lot of them thought I was there to buy them. We explained to them that we were there to let them go. But these people were tortured and conditioned. If somebody tried to leave they would chop their foot off. These people had no fight left.
I was DJing a lot so I knew how to create a good solid groove. House music has got this great thing about it where it’s a universal language because there’s not a lot of words – it’s just a feeling. I took awe-inspiring music. Future Sound Of London, Deep Dish, Sasha and Digweed,
Did I play any Jane’s? No, I thought Jane’s Addiction might be a little startling. It could have made them crazy. I tell you the cool thing. Once a guy grabbed the mic and starting freeforming, everybody wanted the mic. They started realising they were free and the place started to erupt.
John set it up for us to hang out with locals that night. They showed up with these homemade guitars and drums made from pieces of car. We had these beautiful long jams. It was like being in a club when there's a hot group in town.
Aaron Cohen : All these people were hugging each other and crying and I couldn’t see anything then all of a sudden I hear these beats coming through and people started singing along and dancing. I see this boombox rise up above Perry’s head. [The slaves have] never even heard music through a speaker before.
Gunnar Wiebalck (CSI official) : He began dancing and singing. I wasn't sure what would happen, but then everyone joined in. Everyone was dancing. Even the Arab retrievers joined in. It was Christians, Muslims and Jews all dancing together. Arabs, Africans, Americans and Europeans - all.
Perry Farrell : Man, they got into it. They exploded. When I gave them the mic, it was like they knew the beat all along. They would pass the mic, and it was a little like rappin'. Through our interpreter, I found out that they were singing stuff like, 'We're free yeah' and 'We came back home after being taken far away.' Everyone was dancing, and we were holding down the beat; it was awesome.
Aaron Cohen : People were hugging and crying. When [Farrell] stood up with the boombox it was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Everybody started dancing and singing and it was a really wonderful experience. I cried as I watched these people embracing. When you see a parent reunited with their child, there’s nothing can compare to that. We called them redemption parties.
Perry Farrell : The place was getting out of hand and I remember we got in trouble from the community elders. We were partying pretty hard. In the end they said we had to shut it down.
John Eibner : Everyone was having a good time, but the elders were right to be concerned. Some of the locals brought moonshine, and the place was awash with Kalashnikovs - a potentially deadly cocktail. The wise men prevail. The carrying-on did not go much beyond midnight.
John Eibner (Chairman, Christian Solidarity International) : People like Perry can become more powerful anti-slavery campaigners as a result of seeing realities on the ground and encountering liberated slaves. Through his music and the partying Perry also brought a lot of joy to the liberated slaves and communities that had suffered greatly because of slave raiding.
Perry Farrell : On one hand you’re happy that they’re safe. On the other hand, you’re sickened by what they’ve been through. You can’t believe that people in this day and age are doing this to them.
You know that the scars – not just on their body, but on their mind – are going to be with them their whole life. It really puts things into perspective.