Mar 17, 2009 - 8:43 PM
It may be hard to imagine much of anything good coming out of an African country like Somalia, wrought with unending civil war and ineffectual government. But with Troubadour, Somali-Canadian rapper and musician K’naan creates a heartfelt and, at times, ironically nostalgic and self-deprecating reminder that the Somali experience is more than media-sensationalized genocide. Apart from Troubadour’s inspirational message, the album offers little to distinguish K’naan from crops of artists pushing for mainstream exposure with pop music guest appearances and genre-bending sound. Troubadour’s redemption lies in the Mogadishu-born artist’s ability to deliver lyrics that are poetically astute.
Much like his 2007 debut, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, Troubadour, starts with a prerequisite shout out to the continent of Africa. “T.I.A.,” or “This Is Africa,” sounds more like a dancehall anthem than the opening tracks of Dusty Foot. It’s not until the midpoint of the disc, on the track “America,” that K’naan deliver lyrics in Somali, juxtaposed with what is assumed to be the same lyrics rapped in English, as commentary on the difficulties in assimilating to American culture. “America,” which features rapper Mos Def and former Jurassic 5 member Chali 2NA, is a standout track on the album.
Another Troubadour triumph is the heartfelt “Somalia,” addressing the plight of youth in the civil war torn country. Lyrics like, “So what you know about the pirates terrorize the ocean / To never know a single day without a big commotion,” demonstrate K’naan’s understanding of how small a picture the global community has of Somalia’s disadvantaged youth population. Lyrically, the track is on par with Public Enemy classics—protest poetry at its best. The album’s first single, “ABCs,” is the album’s obvious foot-tapper, but escapes the “club track curse” with its sobering message.
For those just now discovering K’naan, a quick listen to The Dusty Foot Philosopher will put Troubadour into context—an album that continues the artist’s poetic and conscious lyrical style, with an innocent attempt at broadening the K’naan fanbase. Even those who might raise an eyebrow at the cameo by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine can be assured the track doesn’t derail the whole effort.
Aaron Morrison is an Oh Dang! guest contributor, currently seeking help for his addiction to pork.