Skip to main content

K'Naan of censoring himself for Success

K'Naan is amazing, I learned about him, when everybody learned about him during the 2010 FIFA world cup. A remix of his Wavin' Flag was selected as the theme song for the world cup. It was happy, fun and energetic song but when I listened to the original version of the song I was awestruck, the song tells a powerful story of people of Somalia and their struggle, the remix had nothing of it. The two talks about totally different freedoms, one is "freedom and fire" to rock the football field other is the freedom to live. I was discussing this with a friend last night and listened more of his older songs and newer songs. The older songs were deep and very personal telling one or the other tales of the civil wars and its autocracies. Newer songs were much more Americanized and in a sense they lacked substance.

I was happy to see that K'naan himself recognized this fact and wrote about it. He writes:

Over breakfast in SoHo, we talked about how to keep my new American audience growing. My lyrics should change, my label’s executives said; radio programmers avoid subjects too far from fun and self-absorption. And for the first time, I felt the affliction of success. When I walked away from the table, there were bruises on the unheard lyrics of my yet-to-be-born songs. A question had raised its hand in the quiet of my soul: What do you do after success? What must you do to keep it?

If this was censorship, I thought, it was a new kind — one I had to do to myself. The label wasn’t telling me what to do. No, it was just giving me choices and information, about my audience — 15-year-old American girls, mostly, who knew little of Somalia. How much better to sing them songs about Americans.