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K'NAAN

PostPosted: Mon Feb 20, 2006 12:30 pm
by howard male
K'NAAN: the name belongs in capitals, and I'd like to think it might end up as iconic and logo-like as Prince or Sting. For this man - the media machine willing - has all the credentials for being the first crossover African pop star.

Charlie's review of The Dusty Foot Philosopher' in yesterday's OMM (and also reproduced on this website as album of the month) along with further airplay on Andy Kershaw's show will hopefully help nudge BMG Canada into giving it a fully promoted release here, but, as we all know, his destiny won't depend on his exceptional talents as a lyricist and songwriter - which are unquestionable - but on the hidden mechanisations of the music business with it's thinly veiled xenophobia and it's increasing unwillingness to take risks.

But where is the risk? Is the question I'd ask: K'Naan sings in an Americanised Eminem-tinged English; his songs have a cutting edge and a commercial sheen; his lyrics whilst being intensely personal are also grippingly dramatic, moving, and even laugh-out-loud funny; this debut album is already making waves wherever it's heard. And it's hip-hop - the mainstay of 21st Century pop throughout the world. This man could clean up!

But K'Naan's potential for super-stardom is really not the point. At least not as far as most readers of this forum are concerned. Is he any good? Is the only relevant question here.

Well, having listened to the album half a dozen times now, I'd say yes. And to save any of you with short attention spans needing to read the rest of this piece, I'd add: this guy is the real thing. Go and buy his CD now.

However, for those who want to know more: read on.

Kurt Vonnegut writes in his new memoir:

Laughter: God knows, that's the soul seeking relief.

This was Vonnegut's remembered response at coming up from a bomb shelter to see his beloved Dresden was no more, having suffered the worst massacre in European history with 350,000 people killed over night. K'Naan's laughter is of the same kind. Up until the age of 13 he must have seen and experienced many things which may have prompted the same laughter of despair, because 'The Dusty Foot Philosopher' is full of barely repressed explosive anger tempered by sly humour and wit.

Using the same relentless declamatory tone and rhythms as Eminem would use to tell you what a hard time his ex wife was giving him, K'Naan - against a slowly building rhythmic backdrop - introduces us to his childhood in 'What's Hardcore?':

We got no police, ambulance or fire fighters
We start riots by burning car tires
You can't go half a block without a road block
You don't pay at the road block you get your throat shot
And each road block is set up by these gangsters
And each gangster go by different standards
for example the evening is a no go
unless you want to wear a bullet like a logo
in the day you should never take the alleyway
the only thing that validates you is the AK…

I'ma spit these verses because I feel annoyed
And I'm not going to quit until I fill the void
And If I rhymed about home and got descriptive
I'd make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit…


And then the chorus goes:

Are you hardcore? Really?…Are you hardcore? hmmm...

- Perhaps the most incisive and cool response imaginable to the countless UK and US rappers who continue to delight in glamorising gun culture of there own making, as oppose to one inflicted upon them. In many ways this song sums up the whole an album as it delivers deadpan shocks in one line then sweetens the pill in the next. K'Naan is the most extraordinary lyricist I've heard since...well, I can't think when. And he actually learnt English phonetically by rapping along to US hip hop albums owned by his father. But he can also be self-reflective as well as dramatic. Here is a moment when he dwells the moral quandary inherent in writing songs about his fraught past, and friends who didn't survive that past:

Dear departed I'm now known as a recording artist
Spilling what little remains of your memories in the process
Bitter a little, but making your names into a colossus.


And here's some lines from 'My Old Home' - memories of a more idyllic time in Somalia before he and his family took the last commercial flight out of there:

The round cemented pot kept the raindrops cool
Neighbours and dwellers spattered their foreheads softly
Loud children played football with a sanded rock
No one knew they were poor
All innocent of greed's judgement


But such lucid, vivid lyrics would just fall flat if the music wasn't superb too. He doesn't just find his sound and groove, and stick to it, there is a huge amount of sonic adventurousness here, cleverly harnessed to be the right side of commercial, creatively utilising samples of Tracy Chapman, Sade, and Peter Tosh amongst others, but never having them carry the full weight of the song's melodic interest.

Like all great artists, K'Naan knows whose shoulders he stands on. Influences mentioned in interviews include: Marley, Nina Simone, Youssou N'dour, Salif Keita, Nas, Fela Kuti and even Zadie Smith. In other words, like all artists of substance, he knows his stuff - he doesn't just go to hip-hop of the last few years, as a shallower young musician might - he knows the river is both deeper and wider.

OK, in conclusion - to be a bit more level headed about it - some of the album is a little overwrought and the Eminem comparison is a little to close for comfort at times in his delivery, but who am I to say this man's work is overwrought when I've not walked in his dusty shoes?


For a first album 'The Dusty Foot Philosopher is extraordinary. But because of its lyrical intensity and the sense that it's a great unburdening of emotions, images and feelings, it only begs the question - what will K'Naan write about next, and has he poured it all out in this single work?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 20, 2006 1:50 pm
by Dominic
I've been in contact with my Sony BMG rep regarding K'Naan. It seems that they have closed the old BMG import department (probably because it listed 100s of Spanish & Italian pop albums which no-one in th UK wanted) but have a consultant in place who can cherry pick the international catalogue where neccessary. They have a meeting tomorrow & K'Naan should be on the agenda as I have forwarded Charlie's Observer review & a link to this site's album of the month.

I'll post again if/when I hear any more.

PostPosted: Mon Feb 20, 2006 2:12 pm
by howard male
Thanks for that news Dominic.

One other thing I forgot to mention is that K'Naan's website www.thedustyfoot.com has two excellent full length videos and some enlightening interview footage. The promo for 'Soobax' is particularly good - you feel like you've been plunged into Somalian street life for five minutes - and perhaps five minutes would be enough!

PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 5:17 pm
by howard male
K'Naan plays Cargo on May 14th.

And I believe he's supporting Damian Marley this Saturday at the Brixton Academy - although his name isn't mentioned in Time Out.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 1:53 pm
by Dominic
howard male wrote:And I believe he's supporting Damian Marley this Saturday at the Brixton Academy - although his name isn't mentioned in Time Out.

According to K'Naan's webite, he's doing the whole Marley European tour, but there's no mention on the Academy site or Marley's site. A shame because I was hoping it would help get him a UK release.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 2:26 pm
by howard male
Well, I got an email from his people in Paris saying he was in London today and tomorrow, so that would suggest he's doing the Academy gig, even though the email didn't mention it specifically. Strange.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 3:05 pm
by Charlie
howard male wrote:K'Naan plays Cargo on May 14th.


Cargo? Or Jazz Cafe?

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 3:32 pm
by howard male
Cargo is what Valerie at 3D Family told me in an email yesterday. I seem to recall they were trying to get something sorted out at the Jazz Cafe, but maybe the dates didn't work out.

K'Naan Sun 14 May Cargo

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 5:28 pm
by Alan
Cargo it is:

K'Naan and guest DJ's on Sun 14th May. 6-12, £10 adv. More info to follow.

PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 2:30 pm
by Dominic
The Dusty Foot Philosopher is now in stock at Stern's: http://www.sternsmusic.com/disk_info/82876709762

PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2006 9:52 am
by howard male
K'Naan is on Kershaw tomorrow night (Sunday 7th May, 10.15, Radio 3)