Minneapolis, MN --
is an artist that defies categorization: a singer, emcee, poet, storyteller, and, thanks in part to the breakout success of his sophomore full-length, a high-profile commentator on global issues, he has brought much-needed attention to the struggles of Third World Africans, specifically natives of his home country, Somalia. Viewing him as a public “spokesperson” for a group underrepresented by the popular media, however, would be missing the forest for the trees—or, to paraphrase the artist himself, you'd be staring at his finger as he pointed at the stars. As was made clear to all who gathered at Minneapolis' Fine Line Music Cafe last Wednesday night, K'naan's true power lies not only in his willingness to speak
his people, but even moreso in his ability to engage them directly in the universal language of hip-hop.
Concertgoers streamed in over the course of local emcees
's brief opening sets. The latter performed his politically-charged jams to a crowd as energetic and sizable as most Wednesday-night headliners could expect; by the time he left the stage, it was clear that the K'naan's local following, particularly among Minneapolis' Somali population (North America's second largest, after K'naan's current home city of Toronto), far dwarfed the midsized venue's capacity. As B96 DJ Peter Parker took the stage to amp fans up for the headliner's arrival, the sardine-packed audience simmered with anticipation.
After a 45-minute wait (and another round of hype from Peter Parker), K'naan and his backing band took the stage, and the crowd exploded into cheers and applause. The artist accompanied himself on djembe as he belted the lyrics to
Dusty Foot Philosopher
track "In the Beginning;" in stark contrast to the cut's airy album version, the live rendition hit home with an exhilarating force multiplied by the sheer number of bodies packed into the venue.
Though high-energy cuts like “
” and “If Rap Gets Jealous” (complete with a scorching electric guitar solo) didn't fail to get the crowd moving,
's less beat-driven tracks, including “Fire In Freetown” and bittersweet love song “Fatima” were equally well-received, as were the sprinkling of tracks off K'naan's debut LP.
The night's most powerful moment by far came midway through the set—after asking all in attendance to lower their voices for a “special portion of the show” (and lapsing into Somalian for a few wisecracks that had a sizable portion of the audience in hysterics), he performed an a cappella rendition of an early version of “
.“ Though the verses elicited periodic cheers, the sung intro/outro was received with haunting silence:
Somalia, I cried today/ I saw you fallen, face down, and then dragged away/And when I told the world, none would bat an eye/ They said since you know how to kill, you should learn to die.
After that poignant portion of the show, K'naan reenergized the crowd with a freestyled reggae tribute to Bob Marley, an inspiring rendition of the anthemic “Waving Flag,” and, finally, an extended encore featuring another favorite off his second LP, “15 Minutes Away.” As the show came to its close well after midnight, I was thoroughly exhausted—despite the late hour and jam-packed conditions, however, it was well worth it to watch K'naan impart his musical message of hope to an audience with whom he had so much in common.
Above all, the night's performance proved that K'naan is something both simpler and more powerful than your typical “politically/globally-conscious rapper:” a man driven to share his exceptional story first with his people, and second with all others who will open their hearts and minds to listen.