The Dusty Foot on the Road

Originally from Mogadishu – the 13-year-old K’Naan escaped Somalia’s civil war for the relative safety of North America – it could be said that this exceptional musician is no stranger to extreme violence. So what happens when the young man meets rap music? An explosion of lyrical talent and a beat-driven music unique in its timbre.

*The Dusty Foot on the Road* has no room for the screeds of cartoon carnage that splatter so much hip-hop. As he says in ‘What’s Hardcore?’ – ‘If I rhymed about home and got descriptive, it would make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit’. This is a rap album straight out of Africa.

Recorded live mainly in London and New York, this is as good an introduction to K’Naan’s modus as last year’s studio album, _The Dusty Foot Philosopher_. In fact it’s probably better. Songs such as ‘In the Beginning’, with its compelling acoustic guitar accompaniment, or ‘Until the Lion Learns To Speak’, where speech rhythms get a hand-drum boost, are written for direct performance. On ‘Soobax’, with scything guitars and ululating women, the excitement is palpable. Singing and chanting primarily in English, K’Naan has a wonderful dexterity with language. No theme is outside his orbit: war, the puerile _braggadocio_ of much rap and, simply, the desire for a peaceful life.

*The Dusty Foot* is one of those rare albums that transcends its musical format. This is much more than hip-hop. It’s a collection of songs – some reflective, others impassioned – that have the poetry and vision of a Ben Harper or Tracy Chapman, and it deserves the broadest hearing.

New Internationalist issue 404 magazine cover This article is from the September 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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