Felicia Appenteng

Anyone been following the situation in Somalia lately? As you all know, Somalia is one of the most troubled and poorest countries in the world, with staggering amounts of clan violence. I have been trying to keep abreast, but I find that because the political structure is so completely alien from anything that I have ever known that most of the things I hear sound like mere abstractions, and the musings of detached academics. Even when I listened to a very interesting roundtable the other day, courtesy of The Economist, I was still left with the feeling that I had no personal understanding of the situation. I heard figures, names, and endless estimations, but real life is not lived out in a convenient political science structure.

Enter the power of art! I began to listen to the music of a Somali hip hop artist (note: anyone that does not consider hip hop art simply doesn't know enough about it) K'naan, who just released his new album Troubadour. Now, occasionally his music falls into the typical self-love of hip hop, but we all know that men have been boasting since Beowulf.

In his music lies the power of art to explain, illustrate, enlighten and transform. His song ABCs gives an insight into the way in which young children develop in such an unstable society

"They don't teach us the ABCs /We play on the hard concrete /All we got is life on the streets."

K'naan is able to tell us the story of Somalia in a natural and interesting way, which denies us the ability to dehumanize the situation or to essentialize the people. In his song Somalia he writes:

"We used to take barb wire /Mold them around discarded bike tires. /Roll 'em down the hill in foot blazin'. /now that was our version of mountain bike racing/Daammn! /Do you see why it's amazing, /When someone comes out of such a dire situation /and learns the English language, /Just to share his observation! /probably get a Grammy without a grammar education."

Art makes things which would otherwise seem distant, close and personal. It allows us to get a glimpse of different ideas and cultures and see them in a new way. When I listen to the Chopin Nocturnes, I know that I do not fully understand 19th century Poland, nor do I expect K'naan to teach me everything about current day Somalia, but 3 of his songs gave me much more of a real picture than any political report ever could.


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