K'NAAN Interview - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

This definitely stands head and shoulders above 99% of the 'celeb' interviews I have done - most probably, for the somewhat bias reason that I respect K’NAAN the music, as well as K’NAAN the artist. The same cannot be said for some of the more ‘blah’ generic Q&A’s I have grinded through with self-loving, whatless stars... – call them entertaining, though hardly enlightening.

K’NAAN was not a disappointment. Blessed by the Bob Marley fam, haven risen from the Somali war (as a none the wiser teen), he now sings and talks with great passion, knowledge, tone of ‘peace be the journey’, set to rep the official South Africa FIFA World Cup 2010 with his show-me-your-lighters ‘Wavin Flag’ anthem – you need to look out for this boy (if only because his upcoming work with Nas and Damian Marley is going to be BIG!). Who is K’NAAN? Here’s my interview with the rapper for Ctrl.Alt.Shift:

Ctrl Meets K’NAAN
Walking into Islington’s Centrestage Studios with my tonsils aching and nose running from some nasty lingering flu (that just refused to die), I wasn’t too sure I was ready for this one...

Meeting someone as passionate and on point as Somali-Canadian rapper K’NAAN, I wanted to be on form – after all, I was about to go head to head with this world touring artist, set to release this summer’s official FIFA World Cup 2010 anthem (‘Wavin’ Flag’), set to launch his stunning album ‘Troubadour’ upon the UK, the I-do-not-take-no-bulls**t from the UN, blessed by the Bob Marley fam musician; all this from humble beginnings in Mogadishu, Somalia.

After a lengthy wait, Keinan Asbdi Warsame aka K’NAAN appeared from his dressing room to take a seat opposite my dictaphone. Blowing his own stuffy nose with a tissue, I found neutral ground, and the Q&A could begin… Here’s the rapper’s take on how he’s bringing his new sound to the world, the underlying truth behind Somali piracy, and how he plans on creating a whole new perspective for his people:

How you doing K’NAAN?
I’m good man, just a little tired, but I’m feeling great.

What you been up to this week?
Just doing some rehearsals, filming a new video, and I’ve been touring – from Italy, to Mexico, to the UK.

Fair to say you’re a bit jetlagged then…I think being jetlagged is my normal state now.

Tell me about your music? How would you describe your sound to those who might know nothing of K’NAAN?
Unique, a mixture of jazz and rap, with Somali influences – it’s just a different sound man.

Who are your musical influences?
Somali poets, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.

I listen to your lyrics and follow your work. From spitting lines like “We fight their battles, then they deceive us, try to control us, they couldn't hold us, ‘cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers…”, to the time you once criticised the UN for failed aid missions to Somalia, do you think it’s fair for observers to label you as a political and socially minded artist?
I actually don’t like labels. I write and say things that I think need to be said, and if others call it being ‘political’ and ‘socially minded’, so be it.

Do you think more artists should be using their positions to challenge the status quo of societies, battle corruption and better lives for their people?
I think artists should be honest… If the world is a perfect place and all they see is beauty, they should go ahead and just sing beautiful happy songs. I write about my experiences and what I see…

A lot of your songs have references to Somalia. I understand you and your mother fled from the country when you were just 14 because of the civil war… How much of that part of your life do you remember? Do you have any fond memories?
It was a hard time, for me and my family – and I still have a lot of relatives living there now. But I definitely have amazing memories, of Somalia always being a beautiful place with warm people, learning Somali spoken word poetry and being inspired by the story-telling.

You were born and bred in Somalia, and then spent much of the remainder of your life in Toronto, Canada. Do you consider yourself to be a music ambassador for Somalia, and even Canada?
I don’t ever ask or plan to be an ambassador, I guess those types of things just happen. But I’d say when I’m good, yeah I’m an ambassador of Somalia and Canada, whilst if I do something s**t, I’ll be an ambassador for myself (laughs).

I read somewhere you went back to Somalia last December… on your own! Were you not scared, especially being such a high profile Somali artist?I was scared, but it was something I felt I had to do – I haven’t been back since I was 14, and I needed to re-visit my roots. But all the people were so welcoming; yes I was recognised, and they treated like royalty, so it felt like I was under the protection of love. One thing I was gutted about was not being able to head into my birthplace Mogadishu, which is still trapped by the war, but I do plan on going back again in the future.

I spent five months living in Vancouver, and fell in love with the Canadian city… I’m planning to immigrate before I get too old. Where would you prefer to live, the UK, Canada, or Somalia?
My name in Somali means ‘traveller’ and that is what I am now. I enjoy moving around different places, and I think touring is what I’ll be doing for a while.

What are the biggest differences you see in the culture and way of life in Somalia and the Western world?
There are the obvious differences, but I think the two can learn a lot from each other. The West has learnt how to progress through materialism, whilst Somalis and others in Africa find strength through spiritualism… if we could find a balance, positive progress could happen across both worlds.

How do you feel Somali’s are viewed here? And how would you like to add or change to that perception?
I think there’s the view that we’re the neighbours that others don’t really understand yet; with the piracy issue on T.V. we can come across as quite ‘unreasonable’. From the way we dress to the way Somali’s sometimes like to keep to themselves, some host countries seem to think we don’t like to integrate into their culture. What I’d like to change about that is give people a water perspective on us, something more well-rounded; we have an intricate history and an even more complex recent history, and when people know about that, they’ll understand Somalis a lot more...

For the full Q&A, please click here


Writings On The Wall Southbank Event Video Footage!

Here's a short video that reviews the United Underground 2 pre-event at the Southbank Centre on February 20. Organising the 'Writings On The Wall' spoken word poetry, music, art and activism showcase for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, British Underground and Riz MC Ahmed was another grand challenging period of my career so far (especially being a rogue journalist used to chasing down reports and sitting behind my laptop). But judging by the response and results, including this great film that features the performances of Sonti Ramirez, poet James Massiah, the Rhymes Won't Wait Collective and showstopper Ed Sheeran, displays a job well done... and something I just might consider taking on in this summer for the United Underground 3!



The Youth-Led Media Network Event @ BFI (March 16)

When I was a Pot Noodle-eating, Snake Bite-drinking, insomniac undergraduate at the Uni of Central Lancs, among the many many life lessons and melodramas rushing to my head each semester, was the everlasting journalism problem of where to gain my journo medals of experience... hard and harsh lessons they were (and still are).

I constantly aimed for the big names, the mainstream media - aim high was my motto. But two factors always played a tragic part of that equation; being a student made it less than easy to break into the established news rooms, and once there, I was hardly trusted and thus left to the medial tasks of coffee runs, transcipting, orange-peeling and (quite naughtily) checking emails and watching weird s**t on YouTube to kill the hours.

Fast forward a couple of years and I'm tip-toeing in and out of the mainstream waters, from The Guardian to the BBC. Hard work, persistency, grasping onto any slice of opportunity, and a severe cut down in online faffing about does pay off... but I do wish there was a more accessible route to those (at times) illusive portfolio pages.

And so, queue the Youth-Led Media Network - something I'm currently working on (alongside Global Ethics UK and a bunch of inspirational young individuals) that may just change the standard procedure for millions of hustling aspiring headline-makers in the UK. Imagine a national online directory with links to every single youth focusing media organisation (anything from Live magazine to Ctrl.Alt.Shift) offering channels to jobs, internships, training and mentoring. It may not be the mainstream, but it would mean guaranteed valuable and invaluable experience and stepping stones.

At the moment, the Network is just a glorious hypothetical, but following the mass interest at the Youth-Led Media Summit last December (2009), and our collective hunt and hopes for funding and endorsements (which we will pitch for at the Youth-Led Media Network event at the BFI on March 16), such an idea may just come to fruition... watch this space. Here's all the details regarding the March 16 event in my preview for Ctrl.Alt.Shift:

Youth-Led Media Network Event @ BFI

The time has come, spring is here, and we're set to put those wintery inspirational talks and thoughts into action...

If you have any interest, query or general wonderment about getting involved in the manic world of the media, then you didn't want to miss out on last December's Youth-Led Media Summit. All set up by The Institute for Global Ethics UK Trust and a team of media freelancers (with members from Youthcomm Radio, Catch 22 youth initiative, Ceasefire magazine, Headliners news agency, Visualisemedia.com, the Leap Anywhere project, Muslim Youth Helpline and Ctrl.Alt.Shift), the conference, consisting of talks, workshops and panel discussions, was a chance for young media enthusiasts - “the next media generation” as Dazed and Confused editor Rod Stanley called them - to come together to discuss how young people could play their part in the industry and engage with youth stereotypes in the media.

It was a hectic day of ifs, buts, whys, and how's. Natty provided some musical relief; to balance out the table-tennis paced debate that erupted from the main panel session - something I felt privileged to be asked to sit on and represent my peoples. I locked horns with the media's big players; including Rod Stanley, Sir Al Aynsley Green (Children's Commissioner for England, 11 Million), Matt Locke (Channel 4's Commissioning Editor for Education), Bob Satchwell (Society of Editors' Executive Director) and Rajini Vaidyanathan (BBC news reporter)...

Here's the full review of the summit.

Despite the fact we may have had conflicting opinions of how the future of youth-led media should work and what it would look like, there was one general consensus; the youth media are strong, and combined forces could lead to an endless realm of prospects, possibilities and opportunities. That was clearly evident from the summit, with the bustling audience consisting of over 150 representatives from various youth-led media organisations (with a combined readership of over two million).

And so came about the proposal and concept of the Youth-Led Media Network... 'What's that?' I hear you say.

Think of it as a grand directory for ALL youth-led media organisations, providing links to mentoring, internships, jobs, youth media news, and loads more. The summit was a chance to brainstorm the idea, gather support, interest, opinions etc. Three months later, and Global Ethics UK alongside the steering group for the Network, will be celebrating the outcomes of the winter summit, showcasing what the Network has the potential to be, discussing funding, and reviewing the next steps... hopefully with you on board! With hopes of becoming an independent youth-led social enterprise, endorsements, collaborations and funding funding funding will be key topics of discussion...

This event will take place on March 16 at Southbank Centre's BFI in London. Although it is by invitation only, all media enthusiasts are welcome. Just RSVP asap as spaces are limted - all details are here.

Ever found it hard, and de-motivating in the grinding quest to break into the media...? Come down and ensure that the power of the press lays in your hands.

For more information about the Network and the upcoming event, please visit www.youthledmedia.org.uk

Note: At the event, there will also be the first screening of the Youth-Led Media Summit 2009 film, created by Beacon School and Red bag Pictures.