W5: Fame and Famine with K'naan in Kenya
Published Saturday, September 24, 2011 11:24PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:45AM EDT
It was unusual, at the 2010 Junos in St. John's, that the prestigious award for artist of the year was handed out at the Saturday night Gala and not during the televised Sunday night show.
But it meant that, as the Gala host, I got to pass that Juno statue to the winner, K'naan, while the Canadian music industry leapt to its feet for a sustained standing ovation that must have lasted five minutes.
While ‘Wavin' Flag' triumphantly blared in the background, it was barely audible with all the cheering.
K'naan just looked at me - incredulous, humble and deeply moved.
I felt privileged to have shared that moment with him. I felt proud on the second night, when he also won songwriter of the year, a Juno for lyrics written in a second language he learned after coming to Canada from Somalia at the age of 13. It is a remarkable story of a remarkable young artist.
Now, I find myself in Dadaab, Kenya with him. Watching him, as he absorbed what we were confronted with - a tent city of some 450,000 of his fellow Somali.
Thousands more were arriving by the day; half of them children, all of them malnourished, some starving, some dying, some in a state of shock from the hardships and misery they'd endured at the hands of bandits and Islamist militants along the way.
He had just arrived, the most famous Somali alive, surrounded by the requisite entourage and security, as they went on the routine tour of Dadaab's modest, makeshift facilities.
Compared to that 2010 night at the Junos in St. John's, K'naan's look in Kenya was decidedly different that day - sympathetic, frustrated, angry.
He abruptly left the tour, and walked amongst these people on his own terms. He spoke their language, he listened to their stories, he heard their pleas.
Some of them crouched in long lines waiting to be registered by UN officials, weathering the heat and the sand blowing through the air. Quietly, K'naan and his brother, Liban, crouched down with them. He said, "This could have been me."
It's too easy to think of this famine - one of the worst in our history - as being too big, too foreign, too obscure for us to grasp. But seen through K'naan's eyes, it became very real and very human.
Through him, their stories come alive.
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