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
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jim Owczarski
Published Sept. 2, 2014
A golf course is a living thing, with insects, grasses and trees all affecting how it plays on a given day. All of those things, and a host of others, must be managed daily by that course's superintendent to make it playable for the golfer. It's a long day, with a lot of duties. I traded places with Brown Deer Golf Course superintendent Tim Wegner to get a better feel for what exactly he does, and I found out how hard it really is.
Published Sept. 1, 2014
The Milwaukee Brewers fell out of first place on Labor Day with a loss to the Chicago Cubs, the first time the Crew has been out of the top spot since way back on April 4. Here's a look at some of the odd numbers in that streak, and some events that went on as the Brewers were taking over first.
Published Sept. 1, 2014
Anyone who follows the Green Bay Packers has learned over the last handful of seasons that nearly every player on the active roster is an important one. Injuries tend to do that. But that doesn't mean some bear more attention than others. Here are five players to watch, and why, as the 2014 season begins.
Published Aug. 28, 2014
In the final game of the preseason schedule, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 34-14 Thursday night at Lambeau Field. It was also the last audition for players on the "bubble," those hoping to survive the 22-man cut that must come by Saturday afternoon. Jeff Janis, Myles White and Jayrone Elliott all flashed in the win. Was it enough?
Published Aug. 28, 2014
In head coach Gary Andersen's second season, and the first with Melvin Gordon as the feature running back, the Wisconsin Badgers hope to make a leap to the top of the Big Ten and potentially make some noise in college football's new playoff.
Published Aug. 27, 2014
The Green Bay Packers are getting ready for their final preseason game of the summer, but don't expect to see any of the star players on either side of the ball. That's fine by them, as the regulars feel they are ready to go for the season.
Published Aug. 26, 2014
Wily Peralta turned 25 in April and is in just his second full season in the major leagues, but the right-handed starter has not only come into his own for the Milwaukee Brewers this year, he's become one of the National League's best pitchers. We caught up with Peralta for our first installment of "5 questions for ..."
Published Aug. 25, 2014
The preseason is good for everyone, from players to coaches to the flag guy (who fell running out of the tunnel) to even the guys covering the team. Read on to see why I was reminded to never count the chickens before they hatch, and some other observations after the third preseason game.
Published Aug. 22, 2014
In the one preseason game that "mattered," the starting offensive and defensive units for the Green Bay Packers put together an impressive first half of football that led to a victory over the Oakland Raiders Friday night at Lambeau Field.
Published Aug. 22, 2014
It's not all about physical ability, at least not in Green Bay. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers requires his pass catchers to be mentally sharp in order to gain trust in them. And that comes from studying up on the details of the position, and the offense.