ACL Music Fest Friday Interviews

Music is his weapon

ACL Music Fest Friday Interviews

K'Naan

5:45pm, Wildflower Center stage

"Hip-hop was created by struggling communities," muses Toronto rapper K'Naan. "I think it will always speak to those people in some way."

Beats and rhymes are the lingua franca of the global underground, and K'Naan has emerged as one of the genre's leading voices. Born in Somalia, the MC caught the last commercial flight out of the country as civil war erupted in 1991. The realities of that conflict have profoundly shaped his music.

"You don't say it like you're posturing because that's real people's struggles," he stresses. "It's not something that we're proud of."

That's an art K'Naan executes with relative ease. Earlier this year, he penned an essay for Urb and Huffington Post alleging that European vessels had been dumping toxic materials in Somali waters, while 2009's Troubadour weaves stories rather than pushing political platforms. Take closer "People Like Me," which begins with a first-person verse from the perspective of a soldier on the front lines in Iraq. The approach is a nuanced take on his hero Fela Kuti's declaration that music is a weapon.

"The weapon is really a silent one, not one that you brandish," he concludes. "The weapon is seen by those that experience it rather than by you saying, 'I have the sword.'"

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