World Cup anthem singer stirs few in native Somalia

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Indy Lifestyle Online

For the few who know him in Somalia, he is a "crazy" refugee, but many have never heard of K'naan - a hip-hop artist whose hit song "Waving Flag" is the official World Cup anthem.

Born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978 in Mogadishu, the Toronto-based rapper who fled the war-wracked Horn of Africa country at the age of 13, has worked up crowds across the world during the World Cup Trophy tour.

The soccer anthem, from his album "Troubadour," is a stomping rendition packed with resounding percussions and rhymed with a reggae riff and was also recently reworked for the Haiti earthquake fundraiser.

"He is great but I can tell you that nobody knows about his greatness in Somalia, where he is taken as someone who lost his culture to the West," said Mohamed Adan Tarabi, a 25-year-old football fan.

"If you Google his name you see thousands of results, which prove his prominence, but in Somalia I've never heard anybody listening to his songs," he added.

Largely under the control of hardline Islamist rebels, Somalia has been cut off from the entertainment world owing to the imposition of strict sharia, or Islamic law, by the extremist militia.

Watching movies, football or listening to music are banned and transgressors can incur drastic penalties such as public flogging, chopping of limbs or even death by a firing squad.

"I heard about a Somali man being selected to sing in the World Cup, but I have no idea about that guy and I have never seen him," said Hasan Adan, a Mogadishu teenager.

"I was only told by a friend that he is an English rapper like those blacks in the US," he added.

Those who know K'naan have great admiration for him, but are restricted to secretly watching his clips on the Internet for fear of being caught by the Islamist militia.

"I'm really a big fan of great K'naan. I have watched him on the Internet and his song for the World Cup is also so good, but I'm disappointed that I cannot freely watch his songs here in Mogadishu," said Fadumo Moalim Hasan.

"I have the anthem downloaded into my mobile and I can secretly watch it. But if the Shebab guys find me with this song in my cell phone I could face punishment," she said, referring to the Al Qaeda-linked group.

Late last year, K'naan returned to the country, but only visited the northern breakaway state of Somaliland which has been spared much of the bloody violence in other parts of the country.

But he did not perform during his two-week stay in Hargeisa, only meeting with prominent Somali poets and elders.

Many Somali yougsters and fans of K'naan do not understand much of what he sings about because they do not understand English.

"Who understands English in this country. I think a singer who sings in English has no market in this country and that is why few know about K'naan," said Mohamed Ilkase, a Mogadishu resident.

"I watched one of his songs and I can say he is crazy if he believes he could be listened to in Mogadishu," he added.