The Dusty Foot Philospher Kicks Up America

29 08 2008

By Derek Beres

It’s rare that I can say that I’m walking to see a Radiohead show. In fact, the last time I attended any show without the assistance of a car, subway, or bus was in 2001, when Liberty State Park hosted its last concert: Radiohead. Seven years later and the state reopened the land—a beautiful park edged on the cusp of Jersey City, overlooking Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Bayonne, as well as offering the closest view to the Statue of Liberty—for the inaugural All Points West festival.

Seven years seems to be my cycle with the boys from Oxfordshire. In 1994 I saw them open for Belly at Rutgers; in 2001, they blew away 25,000 fans; again in ‘08, to 30,000. The year 2001 also marked my introduction to a Somalia-born refugee poet/emcee named K’Naan, also on the bill at All Points West, on a compilation called Building Bridges produced by the great Senegalese musician, Yossou N’Dour. It was a fundraiser for African refugees, and featured two tracks by K’Naan, the global-minded “This Is My World” and the sweet tribute to the female half of our species, “Drain My Grey Away”.

Rooted in Toronto, K’Naan has made quite an impact on the Canadian music scene. When I first saw him perform in Winnipeg, he stood on stage, drum in hand, a full band accentuating his philosophical lyricism with an urban edge, focused on the two instruments that comprise and compose the totality of African storytelling: the voice and the drum. When his first American release compiled a number of older songs from his Canadian My Life Is a Movie earlier this year, The Dusty Foot Philosopher was eagerly embraced by hip-hop fans seeking something that feeds the world, lyrically, and does not simply rely on beats and inane verses to carry the music through.

“When you have music that has some message in it, a lot of the time people wonder if it works,” K’Naan told me after his one-hour set at the festival. “Audiences are predominantly the same anywhere—they’re just people. It’s how you say what you’re saying that counts. It’s also a responsibility. If you have music with a message, you still have to make it beautiful enough so that people appreciate it regardless of the message. It’s not saying something first that counts.”

Read the full article on PopMatters.

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