In December of last year, K’NAAN wrote an op-ed in The New York Times essentially to apologize for his third studio release "Country, God or the Girl," which had been released in October. In the letter, he admitted he bent to the wishes of the label, of wanting to become more popular in America, saying "I had made an album in which a few genuine songs are all but drowned out by the loud siren of ambition."
Since then, the Somali-born Canadian rapper has been largely absent from the performing scene, making his headlining appearance on the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage on Saturday night at Summerfest an interesting choice by the promoters.
K’NAAN rose to more widespread prominence with his 2009 release of "Troubadour," which featured "Bang, Bang" with Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine and a re-working of "If Rap Gets Jealous" with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. That led to "Country, God or the Girl," which featured a variety of producers and guest appearances by Nelly Furtado, Bono and Nas. His stage shows had become a bit more produced, as well.
But, based on that letter to The New York Times, I expected a stripped down show and wondered how many new songs he would play.
Sure enough, he appeared with his five-member band on the keyboard, drums, bongo, bass and electric guitar, with no elaborate lighting or theatrics. It was K’NAAN, the mic, and his own drum up front, and he did not disappoint a small but enthusiastic gathering with a nearly 90-minute set.
And as one could probably expect, he only played one song off of his newest record, introducing "70 Excuses" with "The album is OK, but there are some songs I really like. Like this one…"
K’NAAN seemed incredulous that the crowd would know anything off his first studio-release, 2005’s "Dusty Foot Philosopher," and his joy was evident when the crowd sang, or rapped back, lyrics to "Soobax" and "Strugglin’" as well as the tremendous response to a medley of "Smile" and "What’s Hardcore?"
He mentioned on several occasions how no one knew who he was, and laughed after covering Bruno Mars’ "The Lazy Song" that "America, it’s fucked up, all the songs I write for other people are far more popular than my shit."
Perhaps because it was a festival he expected more passerby or people who knew only a couple of songs, but the crowd on hand were dedicated K’NAAN fans – making his own songs like "Hurt Me Tomorrow," "T.I.A." and "Soobax" jump as hard as his duet with Levine.
I’ve been coming to Summerfest shows for seven years, and have been fortunate to see a lot of great performances and special, singular moments within a set.
But when the rapper told the crowd that he learned of his grandmother’s passing while waiting for his luggage prior to arriving at Summerfest, performing on Saturday night was the furthest thing from his mind, or his heart. But when he dedicated "Take A Minute" to her, and the opening beats were laid, the crowd immediately responded to his pain, lifting him.
"I wanna hear you. I got to feel you," he said. He closed his eyes for a moment, then instructed his band to quiet. "I want to hear them."
The song was powerfully performed, and K’NAAN exhausted himself during a nearly manic dance during an instrumental, kicking his feet and punching the air, before finally falling to a knee at the feet of his guitar player. After the song, he stepped back from the mic and clasped his hands together and said "Thank you so much."
He closed with his first international hit, "Wavin’ Flag," off of "Troubadour" before coming out to a three-song encore which included a cover of Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold" and a moving rendition of "Fatima," a song dedicated to a young friend of his who was killed while they were both in Somalia.
He led the crowd into an acapella chorus to close the song,
Fatima, what did the young man say, before he stole you away?
On that fateful day Fatima
Fatima, did he know your name or the plans we made?
To go to New York City, Fatima
During these few minutes, K’NAAN only raised the mic to his mouth to say "I’m going to remember this" – and the sound eventually made him step back, slide his hands into his pockets and smile. He then put his hand on his heart and walked off with his hands raised, waving.
In The Beginning
The Lazy Song (Bruno Mars cover)
Hurt Me Tomorrow
Smile/What’s Hardcore/TV In The Radio (medley)
Take A Minute (dedication to his grandmother)
Encore: Until The Lion Learns To Speak
Heart of Gold (Neil Young cover)
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jim Owczarski
Published Nov. 28, 2014
Sunday afternoon's game between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots was being touted as a "Super Bowl" preview as soon as last Sunday night, just hours after both teams won their respective games. It may well be that, or not - depending on how these five topics are covered by the green and gold.
Published Nov. 27, 2014
The weather has turned, and winter is upon us. And, the Green Bay Packers are also about to the play four of their remaining five games outdoors in that weather. That may change how the team approaches kicking off, which may lead to more opportunities for big plays with a cold, bounding, live ball.
Published Nov. 26, 2014
This is it, the final week of the fantasy football regular season (if your league does it right). Some of you may be playing out the string, or hoping to throw the playoff bracket into disarray with an upset, or you're trying to get that last needed win to either clinch a spot or secure a preferable seed. This week matters, and we're here to help you win again.
Published Nov. 26, 2014
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will likely play the final home game of his career on Saturday, and in doing so he may set several Big Ten rushing records, and in doing so, he may lead the Badgers into a conference championship game. So why does it feel like he's really all that matters, even if the Badgers play in two more games?
Published Nov. 26, 2014
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun surprised early morning donors to the Hunger Task Force Wednesday by Helfaer Field near Miller Park, and the former MVP said the cryotherapy procedure has his thumb feeling great and fatherhood has provided exciting moments on a daily basis.
Published Nov. 25, 2014
Less than a week after a shocking loss to Nebraska-Omaha at home, Marquette University had to squeak out a win against the New Jersey Institute of Technology on Monday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. "Growing pains" is not just a phrase for this squad, but a very real process.
Published Nov. 24, 2014
Coming off back-to-back blowouts, the Green Bay Packers received a challenge from the last place Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, and the green and gold muscled up on both sides of the ball for a 24-21 victory.
Published Nov. 21, 2014
Football, it can be argued, is the ultimate team game. An individual can't succeed without the the help of 10 others. But in the case of the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, is it as simple as saying as he goes, so goes the team? The numbers seem to bear that out.
Published Nov. 20, 2014
Julius Peppers is adding to his Hall of Fame resume in his first year with the Green Bay Packers, taking to a new position and helping lead an improving defense. But he also is a difference-maker in the third phase of the game, and at any moment, his hidden talent can turn the tide of a game.
Published Nov. 19, 2014
Ball sharing is the core of Jason Kidd's offense, and the biggest parts of that, literally, are the team's big men. They help keep the offense moving in the half court with smart passing decisions and finishing around the rim.