This series, The New World, spotlights artists who are changing the face of international music. And this week it’s Somalian hip-hop artist K’naan (pronounced “Kay-nahn”). He’s one of the hottest names in hip-hop right now, touring with Snoop Dogg and Matisyahu. His 2009 album, Troubadour, combines musical styles from all over the horn of Africa. And his lyrics are not only brutally honest, but they paint a surprisingly poetic picture of life on the streets in Somalia’s capitol city Mogadishu.
Somalia is known as a “nation of poets.” Storytelling is the most popular art form. Many people are not schooled, so stories and poems serve as a kind of walking history. It is customary to tell a story or write a poem at every important occasion: marriage, birthdays, or even just when you have an important emotion to communicate.
The war drove K’naan’s family from Somalia when he was 14. They moved to New York and later to Toronto. K’naan says “I left the war, but the war has never left me.” During wartime, the area of the city Mogadishu that K’naan lived in was known as the “river of blood.”
When you put the two elements together: “nation of poets” and “river of blood”, you can see how K’naan felt driven to share the real story of his homeland.
When most Westerners think of Somalia, they think only of what the media has told us, stories of war, piracy, poverty and famine. It’s not that K’naan avoids these subjects, instead he puts a human face on those experiences.
K’naan is playing the Moore Theater here in Seattle on June 24, and you can find more tour dates, and lots of political information about Africans and the empowering side of their struggle at his website.
KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers, with assistance from Darek Mazzone, John Felthouse and Leah Pogwizd. You can hear all our KEXP Docs series including: Punk Evolution, The Heart of Soul, Pop Goes Electronic and more in the On Demand section of kexp.org.