September 29, 2020

Rapper Refugee Comes Home With Hope

posted on: Thursday October 6, 2011

Katherine Bacino ’14 / A&E Staff

Those familiar with the spectacle of soccer that enraptures the world every four years have likely heard this artist’s most famous work. Yes, I am speaking of the World Cup, and that uplifting anthem that played over sports montages of Ronaldo and Pique leading their teams to glorious victory (alright, maybe I’m partial to Spanish soccer teams, but that is beside the point). “Wavin’ Flag” enraptured a global audience, drawing people together with a song as uplifting and energetic as the World Cup itself. But who is the man behind the anthem? Surely not a one-hit-wonder that stumbled upon an opportunity to lead a global musical endeavor. No, the artist K’naan has a story much more interesting beneath the montage.

K’naan is a slam poet, rapper, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist who moved from war-torn Somalia to Toronto at age 13 and soon after began his musical career. With the assistance of Canadian music producer Sol Guy, K’naan encountered opportunities to speak at U.N. Conferences regarding the Somali Crisis of the 1990s. Impressed by his passion, performance, and courage, songwriters began to reach out to the young artist. By utilizing music and poetry to challenge the ideals and values of western listeners, K’naan has been able to both entertain and educate.

He released his first album My Life is a Movie, in 2004, and another the following year entitled The Dusty Foot Philosopher. The sophomore album was received very well, especially the track “If Rap Gets Jealous,” a song criticizing the glorified stance of gangs and thug lifestyles prevalent in popular rap music. He harshly claims, “So I can rap quench my thirst, I don’t even hear verses no more, I hear jerkin’ off punks with lip glosses and purses, I don’t see nobody I can reach anymore.” It is through statements like this that K’naan breaks away from the emptiness of popular music and presents songs of real substance, meaning, and purpose. The track was rereleased on his latest and most popular album, Troubadour, which also features “Wavin’ Flag,” “Take a Minute,” “ABC’s,” and “Fatima,” songs that utilize rhythmic poetry and witty rhymes to create impacting messages.

This summer, for the first time in 20 years, K’naan made his first trip back to his hometown of Mogadishu, Somalia. Since returning, he has written, spoken, and performed in order to bring a newfound awareness about human rights issues within Somalia. He urges the global community to question why these tragedies occur, and more importantly how we are going to fix them. In an article from last Sunday’s New York Times, K’naan made his motives for returning clear.

“To save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity,” he said.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Millennium Campus Conference (MCC) a few weekends ago at Harvard University, where K’naan led a wonderful conversation about the new face of global leadership. His soft-spoken and articulate humility immediately broke down any barrier of celebrity, inviting a conversation to develop within the group.

“Some of you are brighter than us; we can learn something from you. Isn’t this where the Facebook guys came out of or something? You guys can change things in a great way. Give us some ideas; this stuff is getting insane. We need some fresh perspective,” he said.

In addition to this encouraging call to action, K’naan gave an honest account of his visit to Mogadishu. He discussed the fear and danger he felt throughout the visit, but emphasized that the risk was worth the reward.

“I am deeply saddened by what’s happening in my country, and in the region in general,” K’naan shared, “but at the moment I am also incredibly energized by a new sense of optimism. We are seeing a generation of young leaders who will not take the victim’s seat, but who instead stands proudly with an activated devotion to help their own, but we cannot do it alone and are counting on the support of our brothers and sisters who are in the position to assist us. Let us together remove the psychological fence surrounding the hearts of the world.” It is exactly this truthful optimism and advocacy that make K’naan’s career so phenomenal. It is not a career driven by financial gain and fame, but a calling to community, an opportunity to seize talent and passion, what we love and live for, and give it meaning. Commit to a cause and purpose. Use that purpose to bring the entire world together as one community, and start healing these wounds that affect our entire global family. Get us to fix the world and celebrate, just as we did with “Wavin’ Flag.”

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