Album: K'Naan, Troubadour Champion Edition (Octone/A&M)
In Somalian, K'naan Warsame's name means "the traveller who carries the words of peace".
It is apt, then, that his "Wavin' Flag" – included in three mixes here – should have been chosen as the official anthem of the World Cup in South Africa. Especially since the pan-African mutuality of support in that tournament is strongly reflected in the opening track "T.I.A. (This Is Africa)", in which he offers to "take rappers on a field trip any day", betting that the hardships and gun crime they brag about are no match for what he had to face as a child growing up in Mogadishu, where several of his friends were killed in the civil war.
K'naan's homeland remains too dangerous for him to return – when he went back to Africa to film a video among fellow Somalis, it was with refugees in Kenya – and he has wandered as a troubadour should, living in Toronto, Washington, London and Switzerland and becoming proficient in English in order to secure the widest possible audience for his work.
"Do you see why it's amazin' when someone comes out of such a dire situation and learns the English language just to share his observation?" he asks in "Somalia". "Probably get a Grammy without a gramme of education." By contrast, the "America" depicted by his guests, Mos Def and Chali 2na, seems rather less inspiring.
K'naan undoubtedly has the broad appeal and may turn out to have the skills to become the African hip-hop equivalent of Bob Marley. He is certainly the equal in articulacy of most American rappers and his brushes with violence – he wasn't yet a teenager the first time he fired a gun – have left him with no romantic illusions about gang life. Instead, he exults in "15 Minutes Away" about being able to wire his grandma some money ("Your boy has grown up decent, grandma, can you believe it?") and in "Take A Minute" he expresses his admiration for the patient integrity of Mandela, Gandhi and his own mother.
While Troubadour doesn't lack Western guests– including Marley's son Damian, aka "Junior Gong", Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett – it's the indigenous nature of the Track & Field productions which makes the album sound special. K'naan uses East African jazz samples from the Buda Musique catalogue to drive the grooves along.
So Mulatu Astatke furnishes the swaggering momentum of "ABC's", an apologia for education-starved African youth forced to learn from life on the street ("Attitude, I came out of struggle/Destitute, but I make it hopeful"), while the Getatchew Mekuriya sample in "I Come Prepared" blends intriguingly into an infectious Afro-Caribbean groove.
It all helps give Troubadour a distinctive flavour of hip-hop's possibilities away from the tattered American model, as something with its eye on the future and proper respect for the past.
DOWNLOAD THIS T.I.A.; ABCs; I Come Prepared; Somalia; Wavin' Flag