Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What did K'naan say?

A close reader of this blog would know that I am a K'naan fan.  His concert in fall 2010 was one of my all-time transcendent art experiences.

My daughter informed me that K'naan would be the keynote speaker at the NDP provincial convention last weekend.  She had to work, so she gave me her delegate badge and I disguised myself as her.

The conference was held in the Hamilton Convention Centre.  Close by is Sir John A. MacDonald High School.  The school's online fact sheet says that 40% of the students are born outside of Canada, and, after English, Somali is the language most spoken in the school.

How wonderful that the NDP gave Sir John A. students over 150 tickets to K'naan's keynote. Before the event, I stood at the door with many of these kids who could not contain their excitement.  The keynote was primarily a question-and-answer session.  Most of the questions were asked by young people.

Here are a few of the questions from kids in the audience - and K'naan's answers (at least the best I could scribble down at the time).

Q.  How can I get more youth like me involved in politics?

K'NAAN:  Do you want to be involved in politics?  ... The question is how do people approach their yearning for more involvement. 

In Africa, politics is life.  This question is never asked by a Somali kid because they have to be involved.  ... Remove the blinding mask that is between you and what politics means in your life.

I'm often asked, "What can we do for East Africa?  How can we help?"

[pause, a look of sad hopelessness seems to fall across his face]

It's more powerful to ask why before you ask what.  Why should you help?  Unpack those questions and you will see that humanity is humanity.  Helping people is a privilege, not a right.

Q.  Has anyone helped you get where you are in your career?

K'NAAN:  My mother would always say, 'They give you everything the moment you don't need it.'  First you have to do the work - and that inspires them to help you.

Q.  What can I do if I have difficulties in school, like not fitting in?

K'NAAN:  i would encourage you not to fit in.  Fitting in robs you of your identity and forces you to be other than you are.

Q.  How long do activist youth have to spend in the shadows?

K'NAAN:   In politics, youth can spend a long time in the shadows.  In change, youth are in the forefront.

Q.  How do you deal with stagefright?

K'NAAN:  I had stagefright all the time in high school.   If it looked like I might have to give a speech,  I'd stay home the whole week.  When I began writing songs and singing them, I decided to think of my songs as paintings I would hold up to the audience.  This helped me separate my ego from my songs.

There was much more.  Finally he sang three songs:  Take a Minute, Fatima, and Wavin' Flag.

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