K'Naan

SXSW showcase reviews

Live Shots
Photo by Sandy Carson

K'Naan

Austin Music Hall, Thursday, March 19

"What if we took the jazz sound from Ethiopia in 1965 and brought it here?" asked Somali-born, Toronto-based rapper K'Naan between songs. "What would that sound be like?" The answer came blaring through the sound system, a righteous blend of global underground that borrows from Fela Kuti and Tupac, Bob Marley and Mos Def, and places the troubadour in league with M.I.A and Damian Marley. Drifting between Somali and English, K'Naan opened appropriately enough with the spiritual clanging of "In the Beginning" before launching into "T.I.A.," the jump-off from sophomore album Troubadour. The track shouts-out idols Tupac, Fela, and Marley senior, whose sons invited K'Naan to record the album in the icon's famed Tuff Gong studio. The Marley magic rubs off on the album, but unlike too many rappers, K'Naan sounds better onstage where he was backed by a fourpiece band of drums, guitar, keys, and trumpet. The band morphed into a headbanging gang of rockers on "If Rap Gets Jealous," while "Fire in Freetown" was punctuated with a jazzy, Fela-inspired freak-out. On his "Wavin' Flag" anthem, K'Naan proved he could hold down the stage on his own, the words wafting out a cappella: "When I get older, I will be stronger. They'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag."

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