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Award-winning artist K’naan releases new song honouring refugees


Award-winning artist K’naan releases new song honouring refugees

In his first new recording for more than a decade, singer-songwriter who fled Mogadishu as a child says he wanted the song to feel ‘like a home for those of us made homeless by conflict’.
11 July 2023
A man stands on a sidewalk under an elevated rail line.

Canadian-Somali singer-songwriter K'naan pictured in New York in 2022.

Canadian-Somali artist K’naan, whose unofficial World Cup anthem “Wavin’ Flag” became a No. 1 hit in more than a dozen countries, has released an inspiring new single and video honouring refugees. A full album will follow later this year.

The new track, “Refugee”, draws on both personal and political elements. K’naan grew up listening to his family’s poetry in Somalia before escaping war at the age of 13 on the last commercial flight out of Mogadishu. He lived briefly in the United States before settling in Canada, where he began writing music as a way of processing his experiences.

In an Instagram post accompanying the new release, K’naan said: “In the dictionary, ‘refugee’ is synonymous with displaced person, fugitive, outcast. In Somali the word feels like drifter or homeless. I wanted to write a song that felt like a home for those of us made homeless by conflict.”

The song marks a return to recording for the singer-songwriter, who has performed in nearly 100 countries, released three albums and garnered awards including an MTV Music Video Award and three Junos (The Canadian Grammys). His work has also been recognized on The Guardian’s Best Albums to Hear Before You Die and Rolling Stone’s 200 Greatest Hip Hop Albums of All Time.

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K’naan released his last album in 2012. That same year he wrote a guest essay for The New York Times explaining the trappings of success in the music industry. Since then, he has written and worked extensively in television and film. He has also recently completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and is developing a musical at the Public Theater in New York.

“Growing up, every time someone called me a refugee, I recoiled,” K’naan says. “And I know this is still the reality for so many people today. I wanted to flip the meaning of the word and make it something that people will wear proudly.” 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, recently released figures showing there are currently over 110 million people forcibly displaced around the world. This includes more than 670,000 refugees from Somalia, where ongoing conflict and the worst drought in decades continue to drive people from their homes in search of safety.

Reflecting on his homeland, K’naan says that “it takes both courage and desperation to abandon your home for somewhere unfamiliar. You set aside whatever it is that once made you an individual, in order to join a kind of faceless mass. I saw my mother do it. Her strength gave me hope. It also broke my heart.”

K’naan’s powerful new song opens with the lyrics: “If I was gonna be free, I’d have to change my name. Momma don’t feel shame. Somebody call me, Refugee….”

The single “Refugee” is available on YouTube and all major streaming platforms.