It isn't necessary to read the latest BBC World News reports to know that religious understanding between the masses remains as illusive as ever, but for musicians, however, the theological differences are apparently not as divisive. On Thursday, June 25, you can catch a Sunni Muslim and Hasidic Jew playing a show together at the Knitting Factory when rapper K'naan opens for reggae musician Matisyahu.
As would be expected from a musician who grew up in war torn Mogadishu, K'naan's music reflects on the social strife of Somalia. Only a child when he and his mother fled the Somali Civil War in 1991, K'naan has a different perspective than what comes out of mainstream American hip-hop and he makes no secret of his disdain for the values of musicians like 50 Cent.
"My art comes from the discontent that is what my issues are, what my feelings are, the things that keep me up at night, those are the things I write about. It's gonna be about pirates, that's addressed, but also so many more issues about Somalia are discussed in the music, even its beauty, which has been forgotten," K'naan said in an April 2009 interview with Al Jazeera.
On his 2009 sophomore album Troubadour, K'naan depicts a chaotic war zone full of poverty and ruthless militias, where life continues to exist nonetheless. Diverging from the harder stylings of 2005's The Dusty Foot Philosopher, which drew comparisons to Eminem's intense vocal delivery, the new album goes in several directions, fierce at times and gentle at others. K'naan is at his best when rapping about the hope for and loss of his home. In "Somalia," he lambasts the ignorance that the West has shown towards the current piracy situation and the causes of desperation in the failed state: "So what you know about the pirates who terrorize the ocean? / To never know a single day without a big commotion? / It can't be healthy just to live with such a steep emotion. / And when I try and sleep, I see coffins closin'."
Despite the dire situation, other tracks like "Waving Flag" have all the makings of a classic anthem of freedom and perseverance. Other tracks like "ABCs" feel uncomfortably close to mainstream rap sculpted for airtime, even appearing on the Madden NFL 2009 video game soundtrack.
A smattering of big names such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica fame and Damien Marley also make an appearance, but do little to enhance the album beyond adding celebrity. While this shows the respect K'naan has gained across the music community in his short career, an impressive guest list doesn't always translate to better music and this is no exception. However, the final product is a powerful and mesmerizing record. It's hard not to be moved when K'naan talks about his young love being abducted by gunmen, or struggling with hunger, or young children carrying machine guns or growing up where open sewage drains onto the street.
Not only will Mogadishan rap be in Boise, but Matisyahu posits that reggae is not the exclusive domain of the Rastaman. No shoutouts to Jah here and you won't hear anthems to ganja either, although apparently Matisyahu had his fill of mind-altering substances during his days as a Phish devotee. These days, he's content to share his reflections on his walk with the Orthodox Jewish God, delivered in full reggae glory. The consensus of what this show will sound like? Impossible to tell, but all indications are for an entertaining and thought-provoking show. Matisyahu's single "One Day" in digital release today.