Preserving your Identity

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.


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