Somalian-born lyricist K’naan can never forget where he came from and he makes it known that he came from the struggle through his music. When he speaks about his country, you can see pride in his face, despite all the havoc and killing that’s going on, he makes it known that he is not ashamed. In his smash song, Wavin Flag, K’naan speaks about the struggles the people in Africa face on the daily and being that K’naan and his family are Somalian refugees, he grew up in Somalia during the civil war. The song starts off with K’naan saying that when he gets older he wants to be free, that’s why he waves his flag back and forth just like any other normal flag. The flag symbolizes freedom and many African nations struggle with their independence and freedom, so by K’naan mentioning that he waves his flag he wants to help liberate his country along with others from poverty and wars. K’naan also talks about how his country, Somalia, was once a rich and successful country before it became the war zone it’s known to be today when he says “Born to a throne, stronger than Rome.” but he respects it for what it has become and still calls it home. Unlike many people who often flee their country because of grief, K’naan is proud that he made it out alive because not many people have many success stories coming from Somalia. When it comes to speaking about the Diaspora through his music, K’naan is quick to educate the unknown about the good, the bad and the ugly and suggest that no one should forget about Somalia because it once was a well known place once upon a time. And although the song has grown to the likes of being used in a Coca Cola commercial, it just goes to show that the song itself has stability to be whatever it wants to be.
Ghana is known for being a pioneer of African Independence. Kwame Nkrumah lead a crusade to reclaim Africa for Africans and invited the whole Diaspora to seek refuge inside the West African land. During the 1960s and 1970s, many African Americans moved to Ghana and reclaimed their African roots, so Ghana over the years has had a special linkage to American Blacks and other members of the continent and the Diaspora.
The Diaspora is comprised of the many lands of exile Africans inhabited after their enslavement. The Diaspora is outside of Africa, but Africa is at the heart of everything. Showing pride for African roots and your Diasporic home is common among many hip hop artists. M.anifest, a Ghanaian hip hop artist who has spent his life living in Ghana and the United States, shows love to both Ghana and America. In M.anifest’s aesthetic appeal, he wears kente cloth, beads, African clothing, and other jewelry that shows a pride in his African heritage. In his music, M.anifest uses language that both his American and Ghanaian listeners can follow but also slips in colloquial that each audience will understand respectively. While listening to M.anifest’s music, it was evident that he uses his worldly view of not only being familiar with Ghanaian culture and American culture, but culture all over the world as a powerful tool to broaden the scope of his lyrics, maximize his audience, and to enhance the overall sound and presentation of music.
I particularly studied M.anifest’s song “Palm Wine & Whisky” The title totally sums up his ties to both American and Ghanaian culture. Palm Wine is a common African alcoholic beverage and an American parallel could be whisky. Both are made from natural sources like palm trees or grain. Using pidgin English, M.anifest uses the trope of “being tipsy” to symbolize how people think that he’s unaware or easy to be fooled, but he asserts that he’s aware of the game and steps ahead. The meaning within a meaning in the song is a very African American hip hop thing to do. Many hip hop artists in America make songs where on the surface it’s just a song about drinking, having fun, and beautiful women, but often interwoven into the lyrics are deep, metaphorical messages that you have to sift through to find which the chorus of “Palm Wine & Whisky” supports. The chorus, rapped by Dex Kwasi, in the third verse says, “palm wine, not whisky” I see this as a rejection of American culture as symbolized by the whisky, and saying that I’m going to choose the African way, my African culture. Also to know that both the American culture and African culture exist, but not letting the American culture overpower the African one.
In class, we focused mainly on the immigrant experience of many African people. The overarching theme through the stories and music of African immigrants is trying to find a balance between an African and American world. This desire for balance could be argued to be a struggle for all Black people wherever they find themselves. How do I stay true to my African self? I think through hip hop, there is an avenue to really make sure that the two selves exist harmoniously. It’s vital for survival. As evidenced through the very nature of this course, hip hop is a language that all black people speak and it’s how we can stay connected.
Beginning in 1985, the number of African students coming to the U.S. began to increase substantially. The largest increase was seen between 2000 and 2010 with an African population in the U.S. being 1.6 million. Many African immigrants came from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya and came to destinations in the United States such as New York and the Washington, D.C. area. As they began to come to the United States, they also brought with them their music, art, beliefs, values, and languages. Trying to preserve one’s culture, especially African culture in the United States, one is pressured to discard their culture and homeland and assimilate into U.S. culture. It is even harder if you’re an immigrant trying to succeed in the U.S. music industry. K’naan, a Somalia native, uses his music to persevere and represent Somalia, but often finds the music industry pressuring him to curtail his outspokenness about Somalia in his music and focus more on his U.S. audience.
In The New York Times article entitled, “Censoring Myself for Success,” K’naan speaks on the struggle of trying to balance pleasing an American music audience and incorporating Somalia and his experience as a Somalian in his music. He states in the article, “Right now, the pressures of the music industry encourage me to change the walk of my songs. When I write from the deepest part of my heart, my advisers say, I remind people too much of Somalia, which I escaped as boy”. But hip hop is founded on speaking from the heart and telling the truth of your life. His truth is Somalia and to curtail him from speaking the truth would be untrue to hip hop’s principles. The music industry has artists changing the walk of their songs, and due to that they are now following a leader along a path, the music industry.
Being able to adapt is important, but there is also beauty in celebrating your own personal heritage and culture. To combat following a leader, K’naan ensures in his music as well as in his music videos that Somalia is always represented. In his music video for “Nothing to Lose,” featuring well-known U.S. hip hop rapper Nas, it is a discussion on shining light on who he is and where he comes from. In the music video, he blasts an image of a Somali Social Club sign before telling Nas, “I want you to know about Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya. I want those to be famous landmarks”. Inserting images of Somalia or other African cultures in his videos as well as speaking on Africa is K’naan staying true to his homeland and not assimilating. Any way that an artist can incorporate their culture into their music is a necessary political statement. One does not need to change who they are to succeed in the music industry and K’naan shows that. Though your walk may change, the walk should change because you decide to and the walk will never be without Africa.
In K’naan’s song Nothing to Lose feat. Nas K’naan comes to terms with his Somali culture and heritage and how it influenced him when first immigrating to the United States. He recounts some embarrassing moments when he was unsure of the culture but then eventually becoming entrenched in American style and culture. He even goes into depth to describe how he use to buy knock off Filas. This drives home the point of K’naan being an outsider and being unsure of the style immigrating from a different country. Although, K’naan builds an understanding and sense of American culture and norms he doesn’t lose sight of his own African culture as he shows in this song. Continuing on in this post I will further dissect his song Nothing to Lose and how he uses it to connect with his African and more specifically his Somalian roots.
In his lyrics K’naan makes references to Somalia. He spits, “I don’t know pilots, I know pirates.” Furthermore, he highlights in the video young presumably Somali girls in hijabs, again this displays his strong ties with his motherland. He also highlights the Somali Social Club in the video and Nas even embraces the culture by adorning himself in a keffiyeh. In addition, K’naan brings up other East African countries and urges that knowledge is key and that we need to learn more about one another’s history.
In closing, I would argue that K’naan has close ties with his origin and his motherland. I think that more African rappers need to highlight aspects of their culture and heritage so that fans and the public can become more socially and culturally conscious/aware and tolerant. Knowledge is power, the more we learn about other people’s culture and norms the more likely we will become a more interconnected world.
It is absolutely essential to mention Blitz the Ambassador when talking about and discussing African Diaspora rap artists and their influence on their own community and the Black Diaspora itself. One of the important things Blitz the Ambassador does as an artist is make sure to communicate with and connect the Diaspora through his lyrics. In his particular song, “Best I Can”, ft. Corneille, Blitz the Ambassador talks about his personal experience growing up in Accra, Ghana.
Throughout the entire song, Blitz makes connections between his experience being raised in Ghana – like growing up barefoot in the streets – to the general experience of others in the Diaspora / African Americans – like growing up listening to Rakim. Most Black people of the Diaspora, directly from Africa or not, most likely know a song, or at least have heard of the artist Rakim – as he is from the golden age of hip hop and contributed greatly to its prominence, success, and history. Because Blitz references Rakim, he draws a direct line, or link, to the African Diaspora.
In “Best I Can”, Blitz the Ambassador also communicates the line that “we never had much” – a line that is very quote-able, as this is a popular phrase in not only African American hip hop but in the Black community/ African Diaspora in general. It is important to note this line because it describes and emphasizes the shared experience of many people of the African Diaspora – that a lot of us suffer from oppression due from the repercussions of slavery, jim crow, apartheid, colonization, the taking of African resources, and so much more. These instances of oppression are different from each other, but not too much in the sense that they all contribute(d) to the social suffering, physical suffering, and even “mental slavery”, that occurs in nearly all communities of the African Diaspora. The important thing that Blitz the Ambassador does is create a link between those in the African Diaspora, telling us that we’re not so different from each other and that we need each other in order to achieve and create our own success. A good example of this is his song, “Best I Can”, but this is a central theme in a lot of Blitz’s music – which absolutely attributes his success, positive reaction, and popularity among Black people all over the Diaspora.
Blitz the Ambassador is one of Ghana’s most talented and promising MC’s. Originally a visual artist Samuel Bazawule was recognized for his talented eye during his stay at Achimota School. Sometime shorty after completion of school he transitioned into music and the African music scene is greater because of it. From what I’ve come to understand about African Hip Hop and the artist that represent it Blitz the Ambassador is one of the best to come out of Africa.What I like most about this track is although it has international appeal Blitz doesn’t seem to be going out of his way to sell his music to anyone outside of Africa like some artist do in South Africa.
After his college graduation while still early on in his rap career Blitz relocated to NYC, the birthplace of Hip hop to peruse a career in Hip Hop. With that being said there are certain voice cadences that NY hip hop artist use when they spit that Blitz uses often. Although he was African born he’s truly an Ambassador of the country and the music scene there.
In featured track above “Hello Africa” the listener is seemingly taken on a musical tour through Africa via sound waves. However it’s not only through African sounds but there is a throwback to some underground sounds familiar to hip hop here in the states. There is a Huston Texas influence with the chopped and screwed vocals that is almost reminiscent of UGK which communicates to me that Blitz is a hardcore fan of Hip Hop.
The track is rapped in a Ghanaian language and the instrumentation accompaniment seems to be a combination of american Hip Hop influence as well as traditional sounds of Africa. Blitz exercises his unique flow pattern and NY influenced cadences over the lavish instrumental and the result is a seeming less blend.
Many MCs speak and boast about their brave natures and hard up bringing in their raps. They convey this by describing their longevity in the game and how they survived violent experiences, usually at a young age. Listeners will usually equate this violence to cities in America like Compton, Brooklyn, and even Detroit, but none compare to those experiences that happened in other countries abroad, especially Africa. Because the average American listener isn’t exposed to the hardships of other cultures across the world, they usually discount the experiences of immigrant rappers from these countries. K’naan speaks of his immigrant and Diaspora experience in “T.I.A (This is Africa)”.
He attacks this issue head on, in his first lines saying that he’ll “take rappers on a field trip anyday”, how he “knows where all the looters and the shooters stay”, and how if most of the rappers tried to step up to anyone in Africa they’d call them “pussy”. All these lines discount the experiences of African American rappers, usually the first to result to describing their violent natures in their raps. He insinuates that the real shooters, looters, and tough guys are in Africa, fighting a war with society that’s much bigger than African Americans can imagine. K’naan himself has gotten through some crazy experiences growing up within the beginning of the Somalian Civil War like losing three of his childhood friends to a random gunman when he was about 12, and mistaking a grenade for a potato, and throwing it just moments before it exploded. He definitely has been around the block and can talk about what it means to grow up in a hostile environment. His competition with these American rappers is synonymous to how most immigrants struggle to assimilate into American, British and other cultures they move to. Another quick snip he says at the beginning of the song is “You better have your shots and your passports”, mocking how many hoops immigrants have to go through entering in countries like the United States. In a way he’s telling them they need to be ready to enter his country.
Ultimately K’naan calls out how much immigrants go through and how they aren’t recognized for being survivors, both at home and adjusting to the hardships of the new country they inhabit.
Emmanuel Owusu-Bonsu, also known as Wanlov the Kubolor, was born into a Ghanaian-Romanian family in Ghana. After years of living in Ghana, he moved to the United States to study Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. Two years later, in 2002, he dropped out in order to become fully immersed in his music career.
From his move from his hometown in Ghana to an entirely new continent and country, the United States, it can be gathered that this move was not an easy one. Knowing Wanlov’s background, the lyrics in his song “Smallest Time” are probably telling the story of his journey to a new place where he believed he would be afforded more opportunity, but instead it is the complete opposite.
The song begins: “Seems like just yesterday, left home so far away/ Memories remind us that destiny would find us…/ Africa I miss you…”. Already with the intro and into the hook, the listener is being exposed to a story of diaspora through Wanlov as he expresses how much he misses his home in Africa.
The next verse chronicles the obstacles that he faced as an immigrant in a new country which many people of diasporas face. Wanlov says: “US border, visa requiired/ College degree, unexpired/ No school fees, visa expired/ Funds wired, money perspired/ Now broke, day job desired/ You are hired, then I got fired/ Got married, green card acquired/ But now I am tired, so I retired”.
Following that verse lie more portrayal of Wanlov’s struggle to adjust to the loneliness that moving to a new country brings. He depicts this despair by saying: “I never know say there hard/ Sometimes I got so lonely, wanted to see my family/ Spent money on phone calls/ Voices helped me cross those pitfalls…/ I don’t know if I can make it through another day”.
Through learning a bit about Wanlov’s early life and decision to travel to the United States alone, “Smallest Time” begins to speak volumes for other people in the diaspora as well. Many immigrants experience the sense of loneliness and unhappiness on the journey of searching for the “better life” in a new country. “Smallest Time” was Wanlov the Kubolor’s way of being transparent with his audience about his journey to the United States and what strifes he encountered living here.
KNAAN is an artist who came to the United States as a refugee at the young age of 14. His homeland is the country of Somalia. He is an artist who does a great job of balancing both his African roots as well as his roots in America as an immigrant. The song that I will be using for this blog is called Somalia, from his Troubadour album. This album was a tribute to his motherland. In this song, the artists describes the very raw reality of hardship and violence in the country through his vivid lyricism. He paints a picture with his words of a young girl who had the potential to become anything a doctor or model, but instead picked up a gun. He talks about how pirates are terrorizing the ocean and how everyday where he’s from there is some sort of commotion and unrest. He stays true to his African roots by telling these stories so that he doesn’t forget where he came from and to bring awareness. My favorite part of the song is “Do you see why it’s amazing When someone comes out of such a dire situation And learns the English language Just to share his observation? ” K’naan as an artist has come a long way on his journey to where he is today as a recognized artist internationally. He represents his American immigration roots by learning and producing music in the English language. He also has expanded his music to include collaborations with American artists such as Nas, Nelly Furtado and others which speaks volumes to his career expansion. But like most artist who get signed at some point there becomes a sacrifice. He has three recorded albums, the first two were done without any outside control and the third he began to have label influence. During a meeting he had with the label they encouraged him to keep his American audience happy, because they don’t want to hear about violence and trouble in Somalia. According to The New York Times, “And for the first time, I felt the affliction of success. ” He began to compromise his sound a bit in order to please others and now he is trying to figure out a way to continue to produce his most authentic sound while staying true to the diaspora.