Keinan Abdi Warsame, better known by his stage name K’naan, is a Somali Canadian poet, rapper, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. Born in Somalia, he spent his childhood in Mogadishu, raised within a family well-known for their artistic accomplishments. His grandfather was a renowned poet and his aunt Magool was one of Somalia’s most famous singers, who often sang to K’naan when he was a child.
He’s described his childhood as idyllic, until the outbreak of Somalia’s civil war, during which three of his friends lost their lives to an errant gunman and K’naan himself narrowly escaped death when he encountered a grenade that he initially mistook for a potato. The violence became so bad, specifically in the Wardhiigleey district of Mogadishu where K’naan lived with his family, that that section of the city came to known as the River of Blood. By the time he was 13, his mother had arranged for herself and her children (including K’naan’s older brother and younger sister) to join K’naan’s father in America where he had already been living and working.
Once reunited the whole family eventually relocated to Toronto, specifically to the Rexdale neighborhood, which is often referred to as Little Mogadishu. Though he couldn’t yet speak English upon his arrival in America, he began learning quickly, his linguistic education accelerated by his fascination with hip-hop, which helped him master the pronunciations, rhythms, and cadences of English. Raised within the oral culture of Somalia, language had always maintained a special significance for K’naan, who always thought of himself as a poet. This meant that learning to converse in the language of his new home was not only a matter of convenience for him but one of survival.
Once he had mastered English he began writing poetry and recording songs, posting his material on some Somali websites. Although his teen years were also rife with violence and arrests, he never stopped writing and creating music, eventually even dropping out of school to travel around both the U.S. and Europe and to perform his poetry and music. As he gradually gained a following, he was eventually invited to the 50th anniversary of the UN Commission for Refugees in Geneva. “He used his platform to publicly criticize the United Nations’ handling of the Somali crisis in the 1990s” through a free-verse rap, and in doing so, caught the attention of Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, who was in attendance at the event. N’Dour was so impressed with K’naan’s courage and performance, that he invited the young MC to contribute to N’Dour’s 2001 album Building Bridges, “a project through which K’naan was able to tour the world.”
Following this opportunity, K’naan fell into a depressive period, which lasted a few years, until 2005 when his music career finally took off with the release of his second album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher. He has since gone on to record two more studio albums, Troubadour (2009) and Country, God or the Girl (2012). He became perhaps best known for his song ‘Wavin’ Flag’ off his album Troubadour, when it was chosen as Coca Cola’s anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. On the whole, “K’naan’s music implicitly critiques and interrogates the issues of space and representation that often inform the self-identification of hi-hop practitioners.” Check out his song “Fatima” (Obviously written for yours truly…I wish! Just kidding!)