This week, the Vanity Fair covered Somali-Canadian rapper, poet and musician, K’Naan. His inspirational song, Wavin’ Flag from his album, Troubadour has sparked an international wave of renditions via a promotional anthem initiative sponsored by Coca-Cola. Bill Bradley of the Vanity Fair catches up with him on his life growing up in Mogadishu and on the significance of Wavin’ Flag
Photo by Piet Suess
Interview with K’Naan by Bill Bradley, Vanity Fair
On adolescent life in Mogadishu…K’Naan: It had its positives. The physical nature of the country, it’s a really beautiful place. All the people, the culture and your own language and your family—the valuable things. Eventually, it was the war. Of course, like war does, it ruins those things. We lived in a time of turmoil. We lost people. Eventually, we were fortunate to get out on one of the last commercial flights to leave the country, and we came to New York City.
How his years in Mogadishu shaped his music…K’Naan: I wrote a lot about those experiences as a form of therapy. They were the kinds of songs that I had to get out. Not the kinds of songs that you had to create and search for.
On what “Wavin’ Flag” says to him about Somalia and Africa as a whole…K’Naan: When I sing “Born to a throne/stronger than Rome/but Violent prone/poor people zone,” it says a lot about the state of the continent in general. The former glory that everyone attributes to Africa, its accomplishments, its enlightenments, and ancient traditions—that is great, but where are we now? It’s all that we’ve been, so what are we now?
On Africa’s first-ever World Cup and what it means to South Africa and the continent…K’Naan: It’s a huge matter of African pride. To a lot of people on the continent, it’s a moment of recognition and solidarity between them. The world gets to experience African people on their own continent, which is a really nice moment for South Africa.
On his first trip back to Somalia since he left…K’Naan: It was everything Somalia is: Complicated, beautiful, amazing, and dangerous all at the same time.
As published by Bill Bradley in Vanity Fair; originally published in VF on March 22, 2010
Visit Vanity Fair online here
Official Wavin’ Flag Video (MTV)
Wavin’ Flag-Young Artists for Haiti, Canada
Wavin’ Flag – K’Naan ft. M.I. & Banky W, Nigeria
Wavin’ Flag (Coca Cola Spanish Celebration Mix) – K’Naan ft. David Bisbal
“Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just as the civil unrest that rocked the country was beginning, rapper K’NAAN spent the early years of his life trying to avoid death and listening to the hip-hop records sent to him from America by his father, who had left Somalia earlier. When K’NAAN (whose name means “traveler” in Somali) was 13, he, his mother, and his two siblings were able to leave their homeland and join relatives in Harlem, where they stayed briefly before moving to Rexdale, Ontario, where there was a large Somali community. As soon as his English started improving, he began rapping, and in tenth grade he dropped out of school and traveled around North America for two years, performing occasionally. Through his friendship with Sol Guy, part of promotion team Direct Current Media, K’NAAN was able to perform at the United Nations’ 50th anniversary concert in 1999, held in Geneva, where he used his platform to publicly criticize the United Nations’ handling of the Somali crisis in the 1990s. One of the audience members, Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, was so impressed by the young MC’s performance and courage that he invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges, a project through which K’NAAN was able to tour the world. In 2002, he met Jarvis Church, part of the Track and Field Productions team that helped propel Nelly Furtado to fame, a connection that eventually led to a record. The Dusty Foot Philosopher came out in Canada in 2005, and was followed with tour spots with Mos Def and Talib Kweli, as well as a performance at Live 8. In 2007 the live album On the Road appeared and then, two years later, the album Troubadour became K’NAAN’s first for the major label A&M.” Starpulse