I’ll give you love and affection
love and affection
I hope you give me direction
When I give you my love.

…sings K’naan, who was born in Somalia and whose name in Somali means traveler. Somalia. A country that conjures images of turbulent destruction, unbridled brutality, ruthless and merciless death by those that wear its crown. Somalia. A place where everyone is in the line of fire. Nobody is safe from the belligerence, the barbarian ruthlessness of the costs, traumas and atrocities of war. Somalia. Where GI Joes and Barbies turn into cold hard loaded AK-47s in the hands of 8 year old children; where “childhood” exists in chronological terms alone. Somalia, among the top of Forbes list of the “Most Dangerous Destinations” joining war torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo.

But at the same time, where there is war there is resistance. K’naan is the epithet of resistance. He is a poet, a musician, an artist, and a fighter for the freedoms of his people and for all those born with chains, struggling with more than just the color of their skin, the status of their politics, or the status of their wallets, but with the simple task of making it to the next day, subsisting with the risk of becoming nonexistent in the next.

Through his art he inspires peace and raises world truths unbeknownst or ignored by most. He asks us, “is it true when they say all you need is just love? What about those who have loved only to find that it’s taken away? And why do they say that the children have rights to be free? What about those who I’ve known whose memory still lives inside of me?”


K’naan’s father managed to leave Somalia and left to New York to become a cab driver. He sent money home as often as he could and eventually when an opening came for the family to get the proper visas and passages out of Somalia, K’naan and his mother left on a flight straight for New York City. They lived briefly in Harlem with some relatives before locating to Toronto, where there was a large Somalian community. K’naan eventually learned English with the help of his surroundings and even started getting into hip-hop records like Nas which improved his English and his blossoming ability to rap. He dropped out in grade ten and toured North America doing open mic nights with his new found talent. Sol Guy, with whom his friendship grew, got him a spot speaking before the United Nations High Commissioner in 1999 where K’naan presented a spoken word piece criticizing the poor efforts of the UN in aiding Somalia. This impressive performance lead to further gigs and connections within the musical circles, most notably, Jarvis Church aka Gerald Eaton aka the lead singer for the Canadian band the Philosopher Kings–who eventually produced K’naan’s first LP The Dusty Foot Philosopher. The Dusty Foot Philosopher went on to win a Juno in 2006 and it was also nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.

Three years later K’naan releases Troubadour an album that is reviewed parallel to what I would have by Jesper of the Lemur Blog. I would write more than my simple opinion that I think this second LP is fantastic (though not as great as his first), but since I want to talk about the live show, I shall skip that and pass you over to Jesper for the review!

Live in Concert: K’naan
@ The Pawn Shop (Edmonton)


This show was sold out and for reasons unknown I didn’t have a ticket. After weeks and weeks asking around, posting craigslist and kijiji’s pleas, I was still empty handed. The day of the concert I was accepting the fact that I’d just have to go and stand outside (thankfully the weather was nice and I wouldn’t have frozen my ass off) and beg. Yes I was going to resort to begging to get into that venue. Apparently there were 20 tickets being reserved for VIP people. I was going to front being VIP jajaja oh god good thing I didn’t have to resort to that. A few hours before the show, after relentless refreshing of the craigslist and kijiji, an ad popped up for two tickets FACE VALUE! Yaaaaaaaay! Believe it or not there were a people trying to sell $20 face tickets for $100 each. To these people, a big fuck you.

So I ventured over to the Pawn Shop. The Pawn Shop is growing to be one of my favorite venues in Edmonton. It’s small. It’s cozy. The sound is good, and the people and organizers are generally really nice and answer their phones and aren’t total inept d-bags like from most of my past experience. It’s always interesting to see that when an event such as K’naan comes to town, the iconically indie outfits of keffiyehs, converse, and overly large/plaid clothing gets more or less outnumbered by Rastafarian culture and people of color. It’s also interesting that when a show with a person of color, more specifically in this case, Black, comes to town, that I have to be patted down. Not to mention, replacing all the glass cups/pints within the venue with plastic cups, like the cheap kinds that you find at keggers and various home parties. These actions are noticeable–at least to me–and only perpetuate the stereotype and the essentialist notion that people of color, in this case Africans/Blacks, are belligerent. This is not the case. White individuals who go out and get piss drunk are just as belligerent and dangerous if not more than the general label that Black people are re-appropriated to. There is just as much chance that someone is going to break a glass and start a fight at a Nickelback concert than at a GZA concert. If you’re going to pat me down, pat me down at EVERY SHOW. But I digress…


K’naan’s performance was absolutely fantastic. Filled with percussion, keyboards, crazy bass and livening saxophone, the Pawn Shop last night was a moment of musical enlightenment where we all became a part of the resistance. Always interacting with us, and not just your general jargon like HEY EDMONTON WASSSUP HAHA THE WEATHER SURE IS COLD…kind of crap. K’naan explained to us that it was a special show to him because the drummer got sick and they were eventually going to not perform but K’naan was all like, “well I know there’d be a lot of disappointed fans out there…so we’re performing anyways!”. Plus, every show for K’naan for not only him, but his fans, would be special.

If you’ve listened to his albums, his live shows are nothing like it. The energy is amplified, every lyric spat, every bar sang rings with more resonance than the last. He opens with high beat songs like “ABC” to get the crowd riled and ready for more. K’naan periodically asks us, “are you ready?”. We all thought we were, all thought we knew what to expect but the man surprises us to no end. What was particularly special about the show was the constant change in pace and art forms. The rapper, the musician, the singer, the poet, and the storyteller. He goes into a story of his experience recording Troubadour, how he was recording in the very house of the legendary Bob Marley in Jamaica when he conceived the song “Somalia”, a song, he tells us, which was quite different than the version heard on the album. Of course, he performs it for us. Spoken word all the way. I especially like when he didn’t take shit from two guys that were talking over him. Two guys that I happened to be standing in front of and wanted to shut up myself. I brought my camera this time! It’s no camcorder or anything, but the sound it records is quite nice, and the visuals aren’t bad either.

Live Footage: K’naan – Somalia (Original Conception)

Reminiscent of Saul Williams, many a time K’naan breaks out the spoken word, changing up the songs so that the melodies are in his words and the beats are in his intonations.  After his rendition of “Somalia”, he kills the floor with songs like “T.I.A.”, “If Rap Gets Jealous”, and “Bang Bang”. He shot me, he shot me, bang bang he shot me. He then goes into this slow soulful beat of a song that hasn’t yet been made, singing…

I’ll give you love and affection
love and affection
I hope you give me direction
When I give you my love.

Edmonton don’t you know…
this is a K’naan show!

over and over again. Two minutes in all of us were singing and waving our hands when he asks whether or not it should be made into a song. YESSSSSS!!!

Making a new song is like makin’…
Making a new song is like makin’…

“C’mon Edmonton answer me! Making a new song is like makin’ what…?!” He repeats the verses and well, I’m guess you could guess what we all said jajjaa, it was amusing because in the end he teased us for having our minds in the gutter. Bang bang he shot me.

He took a request from the crowd as well! We were all screaming, “FIFTEEN MINUTES FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!” and K’naan, being the cool dude that he is, totally took the request. Amazing. It was the second last song and he went back into another 5 minute spoken word, before starting up this gem…

Live Footage: K’naan – Wavin’ Flag

Fantastic. After screaming and rallying for an encore, K’naan comes out and performs “I Was Stabbed By Satan”. He ends the show not with a song, but with another spoken word piece. He tells us that he wants to leave us with the mood that he’s in. A mood that he refers to as The Edge. He’s constantly on The Edge. He reveals to us through story and poetry, that to be on The Edge means to be Fed Up. Fed Up. He is always on The Edge and his lyrics raise the fact that we should always be on the Edge too. We should be Fed Up. How can we ever be satisfied with what’s still going on with the world? At least, this was my take on his heartfelt poetry which ended the night on a melancholic note.

When I get older, I will be stronger.
They’ll call me Freedom just like a wavin’ flag.

And then we went back. And then we went back. And then we went back.

See K’naan live if you can, he’s absolutely brilliant and I think I’ve fallen more in love with K’naan after this show. But if you can’t make it to the rest of his tour, just listen. Buy The Dusty Foot Philosopher here. Buy Troubadour here!

MP3: K’naan – Voices In My Head (from DFP)

MP3: K’naan ft. Adam Levine – Bang Bang

MP3: K’naan – 15 Minutes Away

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