K’Naan entertains Boston with energetic show

A review of K’Naan at the House of Blues on October 13, 2010

, Staff Writer

Making his second stop to Boston in the past six months, Somali rapper K’Naan hit the House of Blues last Wednesday and delivered an enjoyable and very energetic set.

K’Naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) catapulted into the public eye when his 2009 anthem “Wavin’ Flag” was named the official song of this year’s World Cup. And catapult is no hyperbole: you couldn’t turn on a television this summer without hearing that song. K’Naan has toured relentlessly since 2009, hitting over 85 countries, and last Wednesday marks his second visit to Boston six months. Although the crowd was somewhat sparse, especially given his popularity, it was a joyful and immensely supportive one. K’Naan responded in kind, bringing a dozen-song set that steadily built upon itself as he and the audience fed off one another’s energy.

The show started off with a shortened rendition of “ABC’s”, the first of several songs performed off his latest album, Troubadour. The song established early K’Naan’s lyrical tone, a constant stream of lyrics, less rhythmic and more focused on a seemingly endless series of rhymes filled with unapologetic social commentary. He continued on with “Dreamer”, both songs relatively subdued compared to the celebratory anthems that made him popular. It wasn’t until a couple songs later, with “America”, that the show really started to pick up. The musical multiculturalism of the song seemed to resonate with the audience, refreshingly (and appropriately) defied placement in one particular demographic. Touches of hip-hop, Indian, and Arabic influences peppered the beat and lyrics, and surprisingly most of the crowd were spot-on with the Somali lyrics. An intimate knowledge with K’Naan’s music would prove to be a theme of the evening: large stretches of songs were taken over by the audience, Warsame himself content to strut back and forth across the stage as they took care of lyrical duties.

There was a great deal of musical variety throughout the show, too. Though the early set was rap heavy, K’Naan did take time to stretch his vocal chords, particularly during “Fatima”, a slower, hopeful tune that had everyone singing together blissfully. It was one of the more affecting moments of the show, one of those times where the performer and the audience are each riding the same wavelength. K’Naan fed off of the crowd’s support, growing more animated and vivacious as the set wore on, until by the time “Wavin’ Flag” came, he was waving his hands excitedly (as was everybody on the floor). The singalong was bright and loud, and as the main set closer was received immediately with excited cheers.

K’naan came back for a lengthy encore of five songs, the most notable being “Somalia”, before which he very seriously requested a moment of silence from the audience. The song details the difficulty of life growing up in his home country, and served as a solemn reminder of what the man on stage had to go through in order to end up in the United States. K’Naan ended his show with “Strugglin’”, a sort of retrospective for the man, a subdued punctuation mark on a show filled with immensely personal moments.

What sets K’Naan apart from other performers is simply that his songs are dripping with real experience. Every piece performed was a pointed political statement, and came from a place clearly close to the man’s heart. In spite of going through tremendous hardships in his early life, the happiness that pervaded K’Naan’s performance is what most wound up taking away from the show. In a musical landscape that focuses (perhaps too much) on what is perceived as authenticity, here is a man who is authentic as it gets, but stays humble enough to know that it isn’t what really matters in the end.

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