This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #425: Waving Flag by K’naan.
It is time to re-visit Leah’s Top Ten list. “Waving Flag” by Somali-born poet, rapper and songwriter, K’naan, comes in at spot #9 on her list. As with most of the songs on Leah’s list, they are there because she has a personal connection with them that has meaning for her. Here is the story of “Waving Flag” and why it holds a special place in the heart of my first-loved.
K’naan grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia. His father had emigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life for his family. So, K’naan spent most of his formative years under the guardianship of his Grandmother, who was a poet and activist in Somalia. Music and language filled his youth and gave him a firm foundation upon which to begin building his own collection of poems and songs. Eventually, Somalia descended into civil war and it became too dangerous to stay so, K’naan and his family joined his father in New York. After six months there, they moved to Toronto, where K’naan’s family settled permanently.
Like many people who find themselves in a new and strange land, K’naan didn’t really know English that well. One of the ways he learned the language was by listening to/singing back the words to Hip Hop songs by US Rappers such as Rakim, Run-DMC and Public Enemy, along with Canadian Hip Hop stars such as Maestro Fresh Wes and Dream Warriors. In time, K’naan moved beyond repeating English words by rote memory and soon developed his own vocabulary. Once armed with a personal arsenal of words, K’naan began writing his own English-language poems and songs. The most popular and successful of these was “Waving Flag”.
“Waving Flag” is a song about not giving up in the face of struggle and adversity. The song talks about K’naan’s own experiences in Somalia and as a new immigrant to Canada but, he also references several historical struggles that people of colour have faced by using terms such as “Buffalo soldiers”. In the end, the song concludes with an acknowledgement that much work remains to be done in order to achieve racial equality but, that he is going to keep on fighting for justice and will never give up.
K’naan rocketed to Fame as a result of “Waving Flag”. He won several Juno Awards in Canada. He was chosen to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on matters of social justice (after having been seen by Senegalese singer/activist and Peter Gabriel collaborator, Youssou N’Dour). “Waving Flag” was chosen as one of the theme songs for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. K’naan was, also, named as an ambassador for the WE-movement in Canada (*when that was still viewed as an inspiring organization for children). “Waving Flag” became a song with global reach. Its’ message inspired young and old, from all around the world.
One of those who were inspired by this song was my Leah. She was still in elementary school when “Waving Flag” was a thing. Because of the empowering message contained in the song and because of the positive and generous nature of K’naan’s personality, Leah opted to do something that I have tremendous respect for, she volunteered to sing this song…..solo…..on stage at her school’s Spring Talent show. I have always been very proud of Leah. She has many strengths and skills to draw from as she grows up into adulthood. But, if we were being honest, being a singer, as well as, being in the public spotlight in such a raw and naked way, is well beyond her comfort zone. But, there she stood, alone on a stage, in front of a Gym filled to capacity, singing K’naan’s words to the world. As it tuned out, her star-turn stands out as one of the defining moments of her young life to date.
Life is easy when we only make safe and comfortable choices. True growth happens when we push at the boundaries of our existence; whether it is leaving a war zone and coming to a new country (like K’naan) or, whether it is standing alone on a stage for the first time and singing for all the world to hear, (like Leah did).Unfortunately, I do not have a video of Leah’s performance but, I do have a video of K’naan at a WE-Day event. It that video, you can see the positivity pour out of him as he sings for the children in attendance. His story is one of Hope and of Inspiration. Thanks, Leah, for making such a good song choice. Here is “Waving Flag” at WE-Day. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for Waving Flag by K’naan can be found here.
K’naan has a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.