June 9th, 2009
K’naan: Power of a Migrant Lyric
I came across the songs from K’nann coincidentally. The first song I stumbled upon was the track TIA (This Is Africa), a dynamic and a strong lyric that combines Hip Hop with African elements. Eager was I to know more about this artist. I was surprised that he is of a Somalian origin and I was also pleased as I listened to his other songs and witnessed that he is using quite a lot of Ethiopian music fragments in his tracks.
15 Minutes Away
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, K’naan spent his childhoodin the district of Wardhiigleey (”The River of Blood”) during the Somali Civil War, which began in 1991. His aunt, Magool, was one of Somalia’s most famous singers. K’naan’s grandfather, Haji Mohamed, was a poet. K’naan is also a Muslim. His name, K’naan, means “traveller” in the Somali language.K’naan’s father, Abdi, left the country, along with many other intellectuals to settle in New York City and work as a cab driver. He mailed money home to his family. As the civil war continued and the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate, K’naan’s mother, Marian Mohamed, petitioned the United States embassy for an exit visa. In 1991, on the last day the US embassy remained open as the government of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed their visa was approved, and they boarded the last commercial flight out of the country.
They joined relatives in Harlem, New York City, before moving to the Toronto, Ontario neighbourhood of Rexdale, where there was a large Somali Canadian community. His family still lives there. In his new country, K’naan began learning English, some through hip hop albums by artists like Nas and Rakim. Despite speaking no English, the young K’naan taught himself hip hop and rap diction, copying the lyrics and style phonetically. He then also began rapping. He dropped out of school in grade ten to travel for a time, rapping at open mic events, and eventually returned to Toronto.
K’Naan on Somali Pirates -There is a reason why this started
K’naan became a friend and associate of Canadian promoter, Sol Guy, who helped him secure a speaking engagement before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999, where K’naan performed a spoken word piece criticizing the UN for its failed aid missions to Somalia. One of the audience members, Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, was so impressed by the young MC’s performance and courage that he invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges, a project through which K’naan was able to tour the world.Critics have said K’naan has “a sound that fuses Bob Marley, conscious American hip hop, and brilliant protest poetry.” His voice and style have been compared to Eminem, but his subject matter is very different; according to K’naan, he makes “urgent music with a message”, talking about the situation in his homeland of Somalia and calling for an end to violence and bloodshed.
He specifically tries to avoid gangsta rap clichés and posturing, saying: “All Somalis know that gangsterism isn’t to brag about. The kids that I was growing up with [in Rexdale] would wear baggy track suit pants, and a little jacket from Zellers or something, and they’d walk into school, and all the cool kids would be like, ‘Ah, man, look at these Somalis. Yo, you’re a punk!’ And the other kid won’t say nothing, but that kid, probably, has killed fifteen people.”
This statement was made to explain his position on the world of difference which exists between where he grew up, and the ghettos of the first world. Nonetheless, K’naan denies that he is overtly political, instead explaining that he “shows the state of the world and if you call it like it is you’re being political. His own opinion of his music is that it’s a “mix of tradition and kind of articulation of my own life and my past experiences.”
K’naan has said that he is influenced by Somali music and the traditional instruments of Somalia.