It is 2010 and every mid-sized coffee shop within a fifteen mile is playing an extensive list of World Cup songs. None of them seem to register, and each song is played in an effortless continuum, blending in with the everyday routine of the coffee shop. When his song comes on, the mood seems to change. Now, the music begins to register. This track is “Waving Flag,” otherwise known as the World Cup song. Suddenly, people seem to be imagining the kaleidoscope of colors representing the various African football teams. There is a conscious and sudden need to "wave your flag," so to speak. That’s the beauty of K’Naan’s music.
Born Keinan Abdi Warsame, K'naan was born in Somalia, and spent his childhood in Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War, an experience that took the lives of friends and left him as scarred young boy. The war greatly influenced the lyrical content of his music. Growing up in a musically influential family, and being exposed to American hip-hop records sent to him by his father, K'naan developed a passion for music.
This passion would also be instrumental in helping him learn English when he moved first to the United States, and then to Canada with his family to flee the war. While living in Rexdale, Canada, K’Naan met with even more obstacles: time in prison and again losing friends to violence, murder and suicide. Instead of allowing these obstacles to hold him back, this multitalented singer and songwriter allowed his experiences to propel him onward to success. It is safe to say that his music is a testimony to his personal trials and tribulations, as well as the struggles Somalia and Africa have faced. He has provided a voice that channels a positive vision for Africa.
K'naan's music embodies various melodies woven into threads of conscious poetry, hip-hop and Somali influenced tunes. His music brings to consciousness the various issues in Africa, his home country, Somalia, and its effort towards recovering from devastating war. Through various collaborations with big names in the music industry like Keane, Nas, Damian Marley and Snoop Dogg, K'naan has straddled both, if not all sides of the fence with his music, spreading his message through different genres. This versatility has allowed him to reach a wide audience successfully.
In an era where most African music critics view western influence as negative for African music and the large audience it appeals to, K'naan has proven to be an artist who sets high standards for the message in his music. His music is positive; you might call it “happy.” This is truly a triumph considering all that he has gone through.
From his conscious lyrics to his world beats, K’Naan has never forgotten where he comes from. His music simultaneously reflects Africa, puts smiles on the faces of all people, and reminds us all that we are one.
Photos: Blogs.seattleweekly.com, hiphoplingustics.com, themusicninja.com