K’Naan remembers what it was like to be a young Somali growing up in a foreign country.
So the rapper is happy that he’ll be able to perform on Saturday in Lewiston, a city with a significant Somali population. He says he didn’t plan it that way, but the power of music often lies in its spontaneous nature.
“It’s a good coincidence for me. When I do a show with a lot of young Somalis who are new to the country, there is a great vibe,” said K’Naan, who will be playing at Bates College. “I really like it when I feel like they can get a chance to come to my shows.”
K’Naan has established himself over the past decade as a poet, rapper, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. He’s best known for his single “Wavin’ Flag,” which was used by Coke for an ad campaign tied to the 2010 World Cup in soccer.
K’Naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) knows first-hand what a lot of Maine’s Somali refugees are going through. He grew up in the Somali city of Mogadishu, but his family left at the beginning of the country’s civil war, around 1991, when he was about 13.
The family relocated to an area of Toronto that had a large Somali community. Music was crucial to K’Naan’s daily life in a new country, just as it was in his old country.
“Music has been instrumental to me in every way, not just as a new immigrant,” said K’Naan, 34, who now lives in New York City. “For me, growing up, it was just part of how you lived. Music was how we processed our identities. We were fed poetry, and we grew up in a world in which things made sense because of the songs we were listening to.”
K’Naan’s family had a strong artistic influence on him. His mother was a well-known singer in Somalia and his grandfather was a poet. His father left for America before the rest of the family, and sent his young son American hip-hop recordings to listen to.
Although his biggest hit to date — “Wavin’ Flag” — has an up-tempo sound and was used by Coke as a sort of anthem of unity, K’Naan says the song is more a “call to arms” about taking action than it is a hand-holding, peace-and-harmony kind of song.
“None of my songs are passive,” he said.
When he was in his early 20s, K’Naan performed a spoken-word piece critical of U.N. aid missions to Somalia in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That event helped him gain wide attention, and led to him being able to tour internationally.
His most recent album, “Country, God or the Girl,” came out in October. The first single, “Is There Anybody Out There?” features Nelly Furtado.
K’Naan is one of those artists who commands the respect of his peers, as evidenced by the list of other musicians who appear on the album: Nas, Bono, Keith Richards and Will.I.Am.
While touring, K’Naan lends his name to various causes and efforts that he believes in. In 2011, he was co-spokesman, with Bono, for a campaign to raise awareness of a drought in East Africa.
He’s also been helping to promote an effort in Canada to increase medical assistance from Canada to African countries.
“I try to get involved with things that I feel are practical, where I can help make things a little more tolerable for people,” he said.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: