The Junos—basically the Canadian version of the Grammy Awards—took place last weekend in Halifax. Our annual shindig is always a little embarrassing, what with the budget locations, the numerous gaffs from resident divas (highlights this time around included Pamela Anderson insisting that Coldplay is Canadian), and the never-ending lineup of cringe-worthy acts (including dingy pop-rockers Nickelback and smarmy lounge lizard Michael Bublé). Plus, the Junos have never given hip-hop much respect—until Vancouver rap crew The Rascalz publicly boycotted the event, the Junos didn’t even bother to televise the urban music segment.
However, this year’s celebration is noteworthy for more than just odd attempts to emulate the Grammys—since the Rap Recording of the Year went to K’naan. While he was up against some of Canada’s top hip-hop stars (shout out to Kardinal, Eternia, Classified, and Sweatshop), K was the clear choice for the award.
The Somali-Canadian artist brings a fresh perspective to North American hip-hop, merging his experiences in war-torn Mogadishu with time spent in both Harlem and Toronto. K’naan’s rich, eclectic sound is unapologetically African, and has made him an icon both at home and abroad.
K’naan has had a whirlwind year, dropping his debut The Dusty Foot Philosopher, touring five continents (more than 150 shows) with the likes of Mos Def and Damian Marley, and recording with M1 from dead prez. On the line from Paris early this morning, K’naan shared his thoughts on Canadian, African, and American music.
What are your impressions of the Canadian music industry?
Slow, creative, hopeful, growing—especially as far as Black music is concerned. These are some words that come to mind. It has potential. It’s this place that is near the big U.S. and doesn’t get the proper shine for that reason. But its location is also an advantage because while it is close to all the action, it maintains an outside perspective.
What are your thoughts on where Canadian hip-hop is at?
It’s like much of what happens around the world. The stigma is the same everywhere outside of the U.S. Everyone is trying to legitimize their sound to American standards. I think it’s more important to come from another side and have something to contribute to American hip-hop, rather than trying to catch up with it.
What do you bring to hip-hop that’s unique?
A very different perspective on life. As hip-hop artists, we write about life as it is. I am trying to expose a different world to hip-hop, and I think it’s something that’s necessary. Also, a new sound.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that North Americans have about Africa?
Man, there’s a lot. People need to know that Africans are dignified people. We are not waiting for others with our hands out. We struggle, and when we struggle it’s with dignity. We are not victims.
What’s been the highlight of this year for you?
I’ve had so many. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of my favorite artists. But I think the biggest highlight was returning to Africa to play a concert in Jabuti in East Africa—former Somali coast—basically playing in my country. Playing my music and seeing what effect it has had on the people was a remarkable experience. It’s not something I could have foreseen. These concerts were huge: older women, young children, young men and women, all coming out and singing along with the words—words that are about themselves. It validated all my own struggles in the music industry. It was a big moment.