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K'naan to play Stanley Park's Malkin Bowl tonight

Regardless of the recent charity controversy or the rain clouds hanging low in the sky, Somali-Canadian musician K'naan will bring his unforgettable mix of poetry, protest, and Somali-infused sounds to Stanley Park's Malkin Bowl Concerts in the Park on Saturday.

The 2010 Juno Best Artist of the Year played in Vancouver during the Olympics. That performance was distinguished by his stage presence and desire to connect with his audience. VO remembers that he stopped the music on several occasions to "slowly go through the lyrics.... sad, touching, historical, inspiring, and always deeply moving."

And what a story they tell. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame, K'naan comes from an area of Mogadishu known as the River of Blood. He survived the Somali Civil War before fleeing with his family for New York City and then, after being discovered by the INS, moving to Canada as refugees.

After settling in Toronto's Rexdale neighbourhood, K'naan taught himself hip-hop and rap diction by copying artists like Nas and Rakim, although he could barely speak English. Fast forward several years and through a connection with Canadian promoter Sol Guy, the rapper was performing a spoken word piece in front of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, criticizing the UN for failing to help Somalians in crisis.

To mainstream audiences, the musician is best known for his hit Wavin' Flag, which was chosen as Coca Cola's 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem and was released as a charity single by Young Artists for Haiti. The song's catchy melody proved translatable and bilingual mixes have been released as collaborations between K'naan and artists in China, Brazil, Nigeria, Greece, Russia, Thailand, and France, among other countries.

Although he has now attracted a worldwide following, his songs are ultimately a celebration of his people and his country. He makes "urgent music with a message."

It’s tough to boast when you know the real deal, when you understand violence in its true nature,” he told CBC. “Home for me has meant the moments between tragedy and beauty.”

And if his last concert in Vancouver is any indication, his message is one of peace in spite of difference.

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