K’naan on corporate america’s subversion tactics. There’s been some clowning of K’naan going on for this essay where to some he may appear as inappropriately expressing a sense of victimization. But setting that aside I would say this is an important reveal.
I could reach more people, it told me. Was it right to spit in the face of fortune, to not walk in rhythm with my new audience? Didn’t all good medicine need a little sugar before it could be swallowed?
So I began to say yes. Yes to trying out songs with A-list producers. Yes to moving production from Kingston to Los Angeles. Yes to giving the characters in my songs names like Mary.
So some songs became far more Top 40 friendly, but infinitely cheaper.
On my second album, I had sung about my mother’s having to leave my cousin behind in Somalia’s war — “How bitter when she had to choose who to take with her…” Now I was left, in “Is Anybody Out There?” — a very American song about the evils of drugs — with only “His name was Adam, when his mom had ’im.”
The first felt to me like a soul with a paintbrush; the other a body with no soul at all.
SO I had not made my Marley or my Dylan, or even my K’naan; I had made an album in which a few genuine songs are all but drowned out by the loud siren of ambition. Fatima had become Mary, and Mohamed, Adam.
I now suspect that packaging me as an idolized star to the pop market in America cannot work; while one can dumb down his lyrics, what one cannot do without being found out is hide his historical baggage. His sense of self. His walk. I imagine the 15-year-old girls can understand that. If not intellectually, perhaps spiritually.