Draped in the cornflower blue Somali flag and flanked by his djembe player and guitarist, K’Naan Warsame is not your average hip hop artist. ‘Gangsta’ poses and bling are just not his thing. Even the samples sound organic. His thin frame is lost in elegantly bohemian threads and with his haystack-shaped hat crammed over a burgeoning Afro, he looks like a youthful Sly Stone and sounds not unlike Eminem once did. But the words he raps and sings mark him out as a proverbial ‘brother from another planet’.
As he declares on his 2005 debut The Dusty Foot Philosopher, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark.” That kind of optimistic attitude has taken him a long way from his roots, growing up in a tough neighbourhood of Mogadishu known as the River of Blood, where he learnt to fire a gun at the age of eight. As the civil war which began in 1988 slowly engulfed the entire country, he and his peers – three of whom were killed one night when he was eleven – were forced to live by their wits in a city where gun law was the only law.
By this time, his father had already settled in the US and was sending his son musical Red Cross packages containing albums by the likes of Eric B & Rakim and Nas, thus sowing the seeds of his later career. Eventually his mum managed to get the rest of the family on the last flight out of Mogadishu in 1991 before turf wars closed the airport. They ended up in Toronto, where K’Naan started writing raps as soon as he could speak English…
Fast forward to 2006. K’Naan spends most of March touring Europe as support act for his friend Damian Marley. His charismatic presence graces DJ Charlie Gillett’s (hopefully not) last broadcast on BBC London 94.9 FM at Reading’s WOMAD festival. In October, his instantly recognisable cameo makes ‘Silani’ a standout track on Ba Cissoko’s second album. And M-1 from underground US rappers Dead Prez joins him onstage at London’s Jazz Café, previewing their forthcoming collaboration, ‘Till We Get There’. You could say K’Naan has ‘arrived’.
K'naan - the dusty foot philospher
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