Somalia. The name alone conjures up images of unbridled destruction, merciless warlords and ruthless terror. A place where nobody—children, the elderly, religious figures—is safe from the atrocities of war, and where the idea of “childhood,” where 8 year olds handle AK-47s like toys, exists in chronological terms alone.
When Forbes magazine recently unveiled their Most Dangerous Destinations, Somalia, above Iraq and Afghanistan, topped the list.
But it’s also been dubbed The Nation of Poets, where a poem can both inspire peace and end wars. Where every weekend, regardless of the climate, one can find a play or concert at a local theatre.
Growing up, it was both of these Somalias that informed musician/emcee K’NAAN Warsame, whose sophomore album Troubadour came out in February, 2009.
He’ll be performing in Kelowna July 12.
The grandson of Haji Mohamed, one of Somalia’s most famous poets, and nephew of famed Somali singer Magool, K’NAAN is creating his own musical path through reggae, funk, pop, soul and, above all, hip-hop.
“I’m not interested in being mediocre,” declares the rapper. “If there’s not a necessity to what I’m doing, I just wouldn’t do it. If I don’t have something to add to the conversation, I’m just not gonna talk.”
Luckily K’NAAN he has plenty to say. Utilizing everything from folk guitar to the actual Hammond B3 used on Bob Marley’s Exodus, the emcee deftly finds a balance between earnest tales of growing up and clever, braggadocio rhymes straight out of Big Daddy Kane’s rhymebook.
It’s this mix, both musical and lyrical, that earned his 2006 debut album The Dusty Foot Philosopher a Juno award for Rap Recording of the Year, a BBC Radio 3 Award, and nomination for the inaugural Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s equivalent to the Shortlist Music Prize.
In a country whose name is synonymous with strife, it’s easy to brand K’NAAN with the “political rapper” tag. But that would be both easy and disingenuous. K’NAAN’s lyrics lie in stark contrast to emcees that use their medium as a pulpit to promote their beliefs.
Consider his words more front-page reportage than editorial page. “My job is to write just what I see/So a visual stenographer is who I be,” he rhymes in I Come Prepared.
Growing up, the extent of Western music that reached the musician was limited to Bob Marley and Tracy Chapman. While driving with a cousin’s boyfriend one day, though, a 10-year old K’NAAN became fascinated by the brief rap emitting from the tinny car speaker. “I had heard a rap verse, but I had no idea what it was back then,” he recalls.
When albums of Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full arrived from New York, the tracks transported the musician to a different world. A world where the rhythm and feeling of language superseded any understanding of the words. “I memorized Eric B. is President and could spit the verse as if it was Rakim,” he says. “I would be outside of the house and all the neighborhood kids would listen. One boy would take some sticks to rock the beat.
“No one, including myself, knew one word of what we were saying. I was relying on the rhythm and the feeling and energy that you got from the track. That helped me a lot with both the phonetics and texture of the words when I would eventually learn English.”
K’NAAN, with opening act to be announced, performs July 12 at Kelowna Community Theatre.
Tickets are available from 250-762-5050 or www.selectyourtickets.com with online sales continuing through June 9 (use code 2012) and general tickets going on sale June 10.