The Beautiful Struggle

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K'naan - The Beautiful Struggle
By Del F. CowieYou would be hard pressed to find a more apt descriptor for K'naan than his own name. K'naan means traveller and it could apply to any number of things concerning this Toronto-based artist. In a literal sense, it applies to K'naan's compelling globe-spanning story, which began in Mogadishu, Somalia. He's a musical traveller, bridging hip-hop and African inspiration with the reach of a poet and the ears of a global citizen. He's a Somali-born Canadian who's addressed the U.N., recorded his new album in Jamaica and whose career has only just started to reach its world-wide potential. K'naan released The Dusty Foot Philosopher in 2006, snagging a Juno Award for Best Rap Recording, a Polaris Prize nomination and plenty of critical acclaim.

But K'naan's journey is not merely based on geography. Indeed as Troubadour, his sophomore effort due on February 24 reveals, he's averse to being pinned down solely as a hip-hop artist. K'naan's musical palette demonstrates equal comfort plying rhymes next to rap luminaries like Mos Def as he is singing hypnotically alluring bilingual romantic songs.

K'naan was born Keinan Warsame in Somalia's capital Mogadishu in a respected artistic family. "This is the country known as the nation of poets," says K'naan. "Their very means of mass communication is a heightened poetry." K'naan's grandfather is a renowned poet, and his aunt Magool was one of Somalia's most famous singers. Known for her distinctive voice and dubbed "Hooyaadii Fanka" - "the mother of the Somali art of singers" - she lived in exile in the Middle East in the 1980s because of her political views, but often sang to K'naan when he was a child. But as Somalia became embroiled in civil war, the innocence of K'naan's childhood was enveloped by the spectre of violence. K'naan himself narrowly escaped a deadly fate when he and his friends played around with what they thought was a potato. It turned out to be a grenade, which K'naan tossed away in time to blow up a nearby school building; miraculously no one was hurt. K'naan's mother's relentless efforts to get her family out of the Wardhiigleey section of Mogadishu - known as the River of Blood - bore fruit at a critical juncture. They escaped on the last commercial flight out of the country before the airport closed, a civil war broke out and the government collapsed.

K'naan eventually moved to the Rexdale neighbourhood of Toronto, where many of the city's Somali community resides. After gaining a rep for poetry he often posted on Somali web sites, in 2001 he was invited to the 50th anniversary of the UN Commission for Refugees. K'naan caught those in attendance off-guard when his spoken word piece criticized policies toward Somalia. He got a standing ovation and an opportunity to work and tour with Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour.

While he's far away from his birthplace and has not returned since, Somalia is still close to his heart. On Troubadour's "Somalia" K'naan vividly describes his homeland and his own personal journey. He also challenges listeners about our knowledge of his birthplace. "So what you know about the pirates terrorize the ocean?/ To never know a single day without a big commotion?" he asks in the chorus. "We are people without reason," K'naan says, describing the media perception of Somalis. "Every other group of people who are struggling with their environments, you see them with their struggle attached." Citing unrest in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq, K'naan says that the issue at hand, whether it be land or oil or some other issue, comes quickly to mind. "Somalia is really the only place that's void of that," he says. "You have pirates. Where did they come from? There is no why. You have war? Nobody knows why. We are the least investigated people. And part of that is that people just don't care. I think that the misconception about Somalia is that we are baseless, we are rebels without cause." From K'naan's perspective, it is the lack of context within which Somalis are perceived that is the most troublesome aspect of media coverage. "You cannot have some of the most eloquent people on earth not have a reason for what is going wrong with their lives. That doesn't make any sense."Yet K'naan wrestles with his role as someone with the access to speak about these issues, with being seen as representative of the issue, a tension likely fostered by his own personal narrative and freedom he craves from being an artist. "I always try and take the attention away from myself whenever I'm made to be this person that is the representative of such and such," says K'naan. "Also, whenever my story is talked about with such a powerful reverence, like this guy has been through this, blah blah, I always say, well, I'm really not the only one in that. My story isn't so unique, but it's the Somali story."
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austin logan says your awesome
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k'naan he was talking the the real story of somalia walaahi he is hero man i always agree him and i always ask god be with you dont worry aboowe
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knaan is dumb
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k naan is the best rapper in this days he is better than the rapper on the redio. i don't like listening to rap music because the say negative but k naan i can listen his music all day his music gives me hope and impowers me to do good things.
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how dare you erase my comment that is rude!!!!! GGGGGGGGGRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE YOU NOW WE NO FRIENDS
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Article Published In Feb 09 Issue