Keinan Abdi Warsame, or more commonly known as K’naan, was only twelve years old when the Somalian Civil War broke out. Three of his closest friends were killed, while he narrowly escaped death himself, picking up a grenade which almost blew him up.
He was forced to flee to New York with his family before moving to Toronto.
There, he self-taught himself English by listening to famous rappers such as Nas, before eventually beginning to make music for himself.
His life as a refugee in Canada was still difficult, as many of his friends were imprisoned or deported.
However, he used music as a medium to convey his struggled, which include PTSD from his childhood wartime trauma. After reciting a poem at a UN convention criticizing their commitment to help Somalia, he released his debut album ‘The Dusty Foot Philosopher’ in 2005 to critical acclaim.
Arguably the most impressive element of K’naan’s artistic journey is his unshakable connection to his roots. Through his music, he seeks to demonstrate the positives in Africa, highlighting its natural beauty over its warfare and struggles.
His popular success is perhaps even a little surprising, as he is something of a musical renegade; he constantly challenges the mainstream. He is politically outspoken, having written a piece for the Huffington Post criticizing the UN and their treatment of Somali pirates, writing that ‘one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard’.
In fact, he followed up his more radio friendly 2012 album ‘Country, God or the Girl’ with a written apology in the New York Times. He explained that he had been advised to accommodate to his newfound success by written more generic music. In his own words, since ‘my audience is in America, my songs should reflect the land where I have chosen to live and work’.
Since then, he has not released any more music, focusing instead on his equally impressive philanthropic efforts. But ultimately, the most admirable part of K’naan’s music is that he has achieved this fame while remaining himself, raising awareness of his homeland while demonstrating the artistic potential of refugee artists.