K’naan whose real name is Keinan Abdi Warsame was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in the year 1978. He moved to Canada at the age of 12 as a refugee where he managed to stabilize his career in poetry and music. K’naan specializes in rapping, poetry, songwriting, singing and instrumentalism. All of K’naan’s songs target the struggle of refugees and their struggle during the civil war and while in a foreign country. Being born in a war-torn country, K’naan has seen the horrors of war, and his aim remains to sensitize people on its effects. Wavin’ Flag is a song that was originally inspired by the civil war in Somalia, but it was later transformed into an anthem that elicits a celebratory and hopeful emotion.
The history of Wavin’Flag traces it to the album Troubadour, and it was originally based on the pain and issues facing refugees. Troubadour is the second album after the first titled ‘The Dusty Foot Philosopher’ which was nominated for a Polaris Prize. The song was produced by Kerry Brothers and Bruno Mars, recorded in 2008 and released in the year 2009. In the first version of Wavin’Flag, he talks about being a refugee and the need for freedom (K’naan 3). K’naan describes a horrendous incident during the civil war that exterminated three of his friends (Egere-Cooper 10). This version is rife with details of the stereotype that the world has over inhabitants of Somaliland. Later on, Coca-Cola chose the record as the theme song for the 2010 World Cup. Consequently, K’naan was forced to change the lyrics so that they fit the celebratory mood.
One of the elements of the song is the presence of the instruments. At the very beginning, there is a feel of tribal drum beats and a fairly fast-paced rhythm that contributes to its uplifting nature. The meaning of this song lies in the facts that it is both uplifting and saddening. From my perspective, I believe that freedom, hope, and justice are the major themes in this song. K’naan is obviously talking about children because he says ‘When I get older’, and the song is based on his childhood (K’naan 3). From this point henceforth, the song maintains the tribal drums, but the sad words make it obvious that he is talking about a painful event. The original version of Wavin’ Flag is more like a demand for justice for these young children. K’naan seems to call in the world to have compassion and find justice for such children. He says ‘And we wondering, when we’ll be free, So we patiently wait for that fateful day’ (K’naan 3). This is some form of betrayal, which he appears to blame the world for as their promises on getting them justice in the form of freedom is not being accomplished. Other elements of the song include tone and rhythm. Considering that he is calling out for freedom, K’naan maintains a fast paced rhythm which increases slightly when singing the chorus. He also maintains a high tone but retains the low-spirited words. For instance, K’naan strongly advocates for freedom for young children living in war-torn countries and unfitting environments. The line ‘A violent prone, poor people zone’ means that the children seek freedom from violence, hurt and betrayal. Within the same stanza, he proceeds to say ‘And we wonderin’, when we’ll be free’. In as much as he believes that there are people who are capable of giving the children the much sought after freedom, there is a stumbling block which is justice (Scholtes 52; Egere-Cooper 13). K’naan uses a fast-paced rhythm and a high tone but low-spirited words. The loud drums maintain the rhythm.
There is a rhyming couplet in the song where the song begins with a chorus then proceeds with two stanzas between each chorus. Repetition throughout the song maintains the rhyming and rhythm. A good example, in this case, is the line ‘so we patiently wait for that fateful day it is not far away, but that’s what we say’ (l.21 f.) (K’naan (b)13). Such a rhyme scheme elicits empathy in the audience and thus gives them hope that the much sought after freedom will eventually come.
A combination of the drums and the occasional rapping of the song makes it of hip hop genre. It also focuses on solving a particular problem, and it talks about a problem faced by people from the black community. The melody is semi-hip hop with a tinge of pop thus producing a combination of modern and traditional feel to the song. This explains why the song has been accepted worldwide (Egere-Cooper 4). There is an anti-thesis in the song that doubles up as a rhetorical device which serves to emphasize why Europe and the rest of the world should call for justice in Somalia regardless of the cost. The line is ‘Bringing us promises, leaving us promises’ (1.26).
The major instruments used throughout the song include the guitar and the drum. Percussion instruments are used in the last part of the chorus for the purpose of stressing the vocals. The song alternates between a G and C sound. Drums are used to dramatize the passages in such a way that the audience gets to comprehend the problems faced by children in Somalia (Scholtes 52). There is a fast tempo, which is effective in portraying the depoliticized platitudes, and this creates a relaxed feeling in the audience (K’naan (b) 19).
Being a poet, K’naan employs the use of stylistic devices throughout the song both to portray a hidden message and to contribute to the depth. The flag found within the song and in the title is a symbol of one’s identity and culture. Severally, K’naan uses repetition to bring clarity by saying ‘Born to a throne, stronger than Rome, But violent-prone, poor people zone’ (K’naan (b) 13). This also contributes to the rhyme of the song. The words ‘throne’, ‘prone’ and ‘zone’ rhyme. Words such as surrender and retreat are used as imagery to encourage the suffering children that it is important to maintain hope. K’naan personifies the darkness thus eliciting empathy in his audience. Wavin’ Flag appears as more of a poem that forces the audience to focus on the words as well as the melody (Macdonald 32).