K'NAAN's Concert Honest and Uplifting

Monday, February 4, 2013

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Written by Peter Miller

K’naan is a famous hip-hop artist. He was born in Somalia and grew up in Toronto. His name became well known around the world when his song “Wavin Flag” became the official song for Coca Cola for the 2010 world cup in South Africa.

But before he became world famous, he was already well known amongst Canadians, and well known to hip-hop fans around the world. His first Album “The Dusty Foot Philosopher” won the Juno Award in 2006 for breakout rap album of the year. During the same year he also won the BBC Radio 3 award for World Music.  K’naan’s music and lyrics are strongly influenced by his past. A lot of his lyrics speak about his past experiences with poverty, and the dangers of living in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

K’naan is critical of the America’s past intervention in Somalia. From 2006 to 2009 the USA held a proxy war in Somalia through Kenya. The war was part of the infamous “War on Terror”, created further destabilization in Somalia, and resulted in 7,000 to 10,000 deaths of Somalian civilians and soldiers. After the war, Somalia was left in chaos, with civilians left to be ruled by brutal warlords. 

He also is not afraid to be critical of inequality in Canada. K’naan describes moving to Canada, and living at the Rexdale neighbourhood that has a large population of civilians from Somalia. He has described in interviews the inequality of opportunity he experienced as a teenager in Canada, being from a family with hardly any resources. He also describes racial profiling by the police in Rexdale, along with raids from police that his family had to endure while living in Toronto.

His concert on Sunday February 3 was the finale to the Hillside Inside weekend of concerts. During the concert K’naan described being extremely surprised when his first album reached a large audience and had a lot of success. Growing up in Rexdale K’naan says he experienced white Canadians being afraid of himself and his Somalian Community. He didn’t think Canadians would be able to like his music.

K’naan played an acoustic set with three other band mates. He played old songs from his earlier albums and some of his new songs during the concert.  The music was lively, upbeat, and the lyrics were amazing as they painted a picture of his past life in Somalia.

K’naan recently wrote an article for the New York Times “censoring myself for success”, where he criticizes himself for changing his lyrics in his latest album in order to reach a broader audience because of pressure from his record company. K’naan’s bosses pressured him to write lyrics more about situations in America. K’naan describes his music executives telling him to “avoid subjects too far from fun and self-absorption.”

K’naan played a few of his songs from his new album “Country, God or the Girl.” While introducing the song "Hurt Me Tomorrow" he candidly admitted “this is a new song from a new album that I don't like very much."  However, he really likes a few of the songs from the album, one of them being the song mentioned above. 

He described writing the song when he finally had a minute to be alone and away from his record company.

The audience got to sing along with K’naan and his band for the song "Hurt Me Tomorrow" as well as his most famous song “Wavin’ Flag.” For “Wavin Flag” K’naan sang the lyrics he had written at first before they were changed for the World Cup. The song described his journey as a refugee from Somalia to New York to Toronto. His family was forced to flee from New York to Toronto because of trouble with the IRS and immigration.

The concert was uplifting. The audience gave a strong ovation at the end and K’naan came on to play Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” as well as his own song “Fatima.” He got the audience to sing the last few lines of “Fatima” and was sincere in his appreciation for the audience’s collective voice.

It was amazing hearing K’naan speak so honestly about his experiences with the record industry as well as his experiences as an artist. K’naan said during the concert that he was going to no longer “censor himself for success” and instead focus on music that is more particular and from himself as an individual. I am excited to listen to his future albums, and here more through song about his struggles and perseverance as well as the collective perseverance of Somalians.  



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