Wednesday, October 25, 2006

k'naan live at the komedia, brighton

I know that barely a day goes by at the moment without a gig review, so just a quick appraisal of another recently attended show - I saw K'naan play at Brighton's Komedia last week, a crimally underpromoted show by a very underrated rapper. In fact, I only found out about the show a few hours before it began, and given K'naan's rising reputation (his two performances at Womad this summer were widely described as the highlight of the festival) I was very surprised to find that tickets were still available.

Given the brilliance of those Womad shows, where K'naan lifted spirits in the Berkshire rain with an awesome set of lilting African drums, wordy rhyming and electric backing tracks, I knew how good the show would be beforehand, and was far from disappointed. Since K'naan's adoption by Charlie Gillett (not literally) and the World Music community, he seems to have built on the seam of African phrasing and instrumentation evident on last year's 'Dusty Foot Philosopher', which often found him switching between a hard, Eminem-style hip hop production and songs more informed by his Somalian background (he moved to Canada as a teenager). So the first half of his Brighton show saw him eschewing backing tracks in favour of a pared down, minimalist sound consisting of powerful African drumming and acoustic guitar. Even straight hip hop tracks like 'What's Hardcore?', a highlight on the album, got the acoustic treatment, giving even more space to K'naan's wonderful rhymes, which bear repeating:

"We begin our day by the weight of the gun,
rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
We got no police, ambulance or fire fighters,
we start riots by burning car tyres.
They lootin', and everybody start shootin',
Bullshit politicians talking about solutions,
but it's all talk..."

Despite reverting (very effectively) to backing tracks for the middle section of the set, it's the acoustic track, 'Be Free' which is once again, as at Womad, the stand out track. It's neither world music, hip hop, folk or blues, but something new involving hints of all those sounds and more. Weirdly, the song reminds me most of Billy Bragg, something about the prominence and idealism of the lyrics and the simplicity - but beauty - of the music. As always, the song inspires, during its 'la la la la' chorus, a bit of a mass sing along and moments of something close to reverence during the acapella verses. The stand out lyric remains "Muslims, jews and christians war 'til no-one's left to praise the lord", but there are some lovely lines elsewhere, too:

"Then I saw the stars faint,
falling 'dem with heart ache.
Then I felt the earth shake,
trembling for God's sake.
It's like when her voice breaks..."

Really, K'naan has the lot, and it'll be interesting which path he chooses to follow; he's obviously marvellously adept at making memorable, straight down the line hip hop, and increasingly comfortable ploughing his own unique furrow, too. Introducing himself at the Brighton gig he explained that "making music has never been about having fun for me", so I suspect he won't follow the path of least resistence. Equally, I'm pretty sure that whatever he does will be fantastic.

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