Somali rapper K'Naan is often profiled for his inspiring story, his uplifting lyrics, and his radio-ready hit "Wavin' Flag," embedded above, which crept onto the U.S. Billboard chart at #99. K'Naan, who fled the country as a teenager, is a harsh critic of violent extremists plaguing Somalia -- perhaps little surprise given that al-Shabaab, the radical group often compared to al-Qaeda, forbids music and often murders musicians.
K'Naan does, however, voice a measure of sympathy for the pirates off Somalia's coasts, arguing that the rest of the world abuses Somalia and pollutes its coastline. Somali piracy is a growing problem with global scope: 2009 saw 214 attacks, 22% of which resulted in hijacking or worse. Pirates are estimated to currently hold 270 hostages in all. K'Naan argues, in his music and in interviews, that the rest of the world misunderstands piracy and the war-torn Somalia it comes from. From his song "Somalia," which is embedded above:
I'm not particularly proud of this predicament but
I'm born and bred in this tenement, I'm sentimental, what?
Plus it's only right to represent my hood and what not
So I'm about to do it in the music in the movies
Cut to the chase pan across the face, I'm right there
Freeze frame on the street name, oops, wait a minute
This is where the streets have no name and the drain of sewage
You can see it in this boy how the hate is brewing
So what you know about the pirates terrorize the ocean
To never know a simple day without a big commotion
It can't be heavy just to live with such steep emotion
And when I try to sleep, I see coffins closing
In an interview with music journalist Davey D, K'Naan argues that Somalis don't see the pirates as criminals. "Whenever Somalis get together and talk about pirates, we talk about them as if they're coast guards of the country. We don't talk about them as this evil kind of group that's disturbing European trade, which we don't really care about too much." He says that the international community has not demonstrated political or environmental concern for Somalia and that piracy is Somalia's means of expressing some scant sovereignty and control over its waters. He cites illegal fishing and dumping of waste.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.