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K'Naan: Sending a different message?
(taken from Newsletter #22, Dec. 1/06)

Does K'Naan's new video show a more disturbing message about violence?

Update: Jan. 4/07: See John Goddard's article in today's Toronto Star about this same issue.


I’ve often mentioned K’naan in this newsletter and website; he's a really impressive singer and songwriter who looks as if he is headed for some major worldwide attention. (In the UK discussion forum on Charlie Gillett’s website, regular Howard Male listed K’Naan’s WOMAD performance as his top gig of the year. (“It moved me to tears.”) You can hear some of K’Naan on Gillett’s radio show: both his WOMAD performance and his guest spot on Charlie's former radio show are archived on Mondomix. Scroll through the Charlie Gillett section for the "K'Naan" and "Womad 2006" links.)

However, I was struck somewhat negatively by K’Naan’s latest video, which he made concerning an incident that happened to him in Sweden. One of the aspects of K’Naan’s songs that have impressed many of us is his strong, visceral reaction against violence, as a result of witnessing the true horror of violence in his native Somalia. (“How can they go to war, when it’s war that’s terrorizing?” he sings in “Hoobale”). See this news article from the U.K. Independent for example.

At a show in Sweden, he and his band were blocked by, and roughed up by security staff. Police came, and ended up putting K’Naan’s manager in jail for the night. K’Naan’s reaction is understandably angry and emotional. His video tells the story from his perspective, and includes actual footage from the incident.

However, despite what happened, I found it pretty disturbing to hear him sing:

"I wish I had a knife. I'd stab him..."

"I wished I was travelling with a gun. I'd a put 2 in each asshole"

The Swedish incident no doubt was pretty messy, but surely he has seen much worse. That's what gives his words such power. So when I heard him singing words like the above, it sounded like a totally different K'Naan, a totally different message.

See his video here:  (requires Quick Time).

Added note (Dec. 27)

His last Toronto concert (Oct. 7 -- photos here.) was a fund-raiser for a program titled "Shoot With This" , designed to encourage high school students in the Jane-Finch area to to use video to tell their stories and express themselves (instead of using guns). "What better weapon to arm youth with than a video camera?" stated the press release.

I wonder what the reaction would have been at that event if this video of K'Naan's -- with his statements -- had been shown.