Discovery: K’NAAN

Published January 27, 2012

Everybody longs for home. K’naan, originally from Somalia, has lived in the States for over 20 years, and his music is still filled with melancholic longing. Yet the rapper’s debut EP, More Beautiful Than Silence, is also an anthem to survival, with driving, upbeat songs featuring talents like Nas and Nelly Furtado. These musical influences fueled K’naan while learning English in Toronto after his family left Somalia. His country in the throes of civil war was a frightening and beautiful place to grow up, and a level of strength and exuberance infects K’naan’s songs. A champion of freedom, K’naan has also teamed up with Bono to raise awareness of the 2011 Eastern Africa drought and spoken out against Somali pirates. Brave and badass, K’naan’s music is both bold, beat-driven statement and beautiful meditation.

AGE: 34

HOMETOWN: Mogadishu, Somalia

BEING A LOSER UNTIL YOU’RE NOT: I wasn’t making music consciously when I was younger. I was a musician, but that has its own stigmas. Anywhere on the planet, it’s one of the more undervalued positions. Art isn’t held with the same high regard as it is after success. In any country, in any language, you’re a loser if you’re making music until you prove otherwise.

THE MIDDLEMAN: I enjoy mediation. I think the artist’s position is often to mend the things we feel are broken. Whether that’s between two cultures or two thoughts. We’re always trying to reach, trying to expand something.

CROWDS VERSUS CLOSE QUARTERS: I’ve been fortunate enough to play for both. It really depends on the feeling of the night. I think having the option is the best thing. But I do like intimacy. Loudness is not always the best way to amplify art.

WORKING WITH STARS: It’s a privilege to borrow the exceptional talents of people I respect. I started on the other side of things. I thought what I wrote as an artist was very personal. I’d always been outcast as this guy who speaks his mind from some weird country where they’re fighting, by the questions raised from my own work.

ON SUCCESS: I think it’s a mistake to work on success in career. I’ve worked on my passions obsessively. How can I say what I want to say more precisely than the last time I said it? Success is such an elusive concept. When you work for it, I think you get it in a way you might regret it.

ART AND LONELINESS: We’re here to feel. I think the artist needs to open, to want challenge, to be happy to be wrong, to quickly abandon all convictions. Most of my music is when melancholy becomes beautiful. When loneliness is no longer loneliness, but solitude. You’re ready to love the bittersweet.

WINNING: I don’t know how people could expect a society to really thrive and create wonderful art that’s memorable and lasting if everybody is right all the time. If everybody is winning and always at their best, I think we risk losing why we identify with art at all. Every time I turn on the radio, everybody is winning. Vulnerability is being lost.

MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN SILENCE IS AVAILABLE NOW. FOR MORE ON K’NAAN, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.