The following is (my first!!) guest blog from two quite cool people – Kevina Power and Ron Harris (aka Os12). I will leave it at that and let them explain the rest …
It was late fall 2005 when we left Kenya for South Africa to host 2 World Urban Cafes (WUCs); one during the 1st African Hip Hop Summit, and one during the monthly Black Sunday event in Soweto. As I write this lots of memories are flooding back… WUCs, Hip Hop, Friends, Soweto… it all feels like a dream, a damn good dream.
First let me explain some background; how did we end up in Kenya? South Africa? To many other places far far away? Well, back then, when I was considering working with Doug on the World Urban Forum project of the Environmental Youth Alliance, I remember him trying to explain his vision to me… it was on a napkin I think, sitting in some cafeteria in downtown Vancouver. If you know Doug, you know he speaks from a place where he calls ‘the bleeding edge’ and indeed this World Urban Café plan of his was certainly that. You see, UN Habitat, the UN agency charged with ‘improving the lives of slum dwellers’ was going to host their 3rd Session of the World Urban Forum in our city, VanCity, the next year.
When Doug asked to meet with me, I thought it would be just another long lunch with Doug, talking about our lives, our city, our vision for the future. Little did I know that this lunch would change me forever. Jumping forward, about 8 months later, here I am, living in Nairobi, Kenya, a place I had not even knew existed a year before, working with UN Habitat and the Environmental Youth Alliance on the World Urban Forum, specifically implementing this WUC Concept in the lead up to the 2006 Conference in Vancouver.
Most rappers would be considered a sell out if they let their song be used by Coke. Not K’naan.
“I have a lot of friends who are from either side, Mos Def and those guys who are in the conscious lane. I know other friends who are in the make-money lane. But for me, I see myself as someone who can speak to both audiences,” he said. “That to me is important, to never claim a position too smart for the listener. I think it’s important to reach everybody.” (read the complete CNN article Somali rapper bucks hip-hop code of violence). His interview with CNN as well demonstrates the basic humbleness of the guy.
I first got to know of K’naan when i was organizing the youth program for the World Urban Forum in 2006. What I learned was that he was both a principled artist and a pretty good businessman. He never did play at the WUF (unfortunate, as we had a great lineup and over 5000 people attending), but one of the EYAers organizing the WUF, Kevina Power, and a EYAer turned Hip Hop blogger/writer Tara Henley helped out on an amazing concert tour in Joburg and Soweto. (I don’t have many regrets in my life, but not attending this was one of them).
I later was able to briefly connect with him at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (of all places) as part of my volunteer work on the media committee. Again, blown away by the guy and his amazing music and poetry. This is a photo I took of him playing on the mainstage (with the mountains in background … surreal).
What moved me about his Wavin Flag was the strong shout out (like my hip hop lingo?) to youth in Africa:
So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say, love is the way
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers
I love the in your face realism of his message – yes, we are proud; yes, we will move forward to a promised future; but damn the struggle is hard. Funny enough, this verse is not repeated in the official Coke song. I guess Coke isn’t THAT radical.
He has an earlier song (In the Beginning) that speaks to this message of the struggle – it is really beautiful and quite moving spoken word:
It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark
In the eyes of the youth there are question marks
Freedom for the mind and soul
We don’t see them
See them for their worth at all
That’s why we lead them
Lead them to these wars and what is it we feed them
Feed them our impurities and who it is we treat them
Treat them like the enemy humanity will need them
Need them like the blood we spill and where freedom
Freedom for the hearts we fill
They hunger for the love we give
But we cheat them
The cops beat them when all he wants is his freedom
So they defeat them
Whatever spirit he’s got
And they teach them that the rest of the world don’t need him
And he believes it’s a disease that he’s heathen
Put up your fists if all you want is freedom
You really have to listen to the song to get the full impact.
It is amazing to see that someone from such a background as his can hit it out of the park the way he has. Gives me some hope for the future.
ps. for those die-hards, here is Wavin Flag … one more time.
Wish I was there!!
Some quotes left regarding the video:
CENTRAL AMERICA, AFRICA, & SOUTH AMERICA WAVE YOUR FLAGS with PRIDE!!!!we might be 3rd world countries but my god we are stronger then any wealthy nations
Respect and love to K’naan. Thank you for waving the somali flag. One day somalia will be the country we knew. Peaceful, best weather on earth and beatiful people like u
K’naan You’re the best ever and your song will be the best song world cup in Africa I’m very proud of you K’naan and thanks for the
woow k’naan well done man,,,, u really made me cry when i sow my flag woow i dont know what to say K’naan love u so much
You know in a weird way this performance really moved me… just such a mix of cultures in the crowd, thousands of them coming together to sing a song about being proud of who you are and where you come from, and to have a man from somalia, a country thats been through so much to sing it, it was very powerful 🙂
For one month, the world is at peace, and the only battle that takes place is on the field. For a brief moment in time, EVERYONE is united. You can see that in this video