K’naan: How His Muslim Heritage Influences His Music- Cultural Arts Review

Posted on September 30, 2013 by




As the cultures and politics of the world become more and more connected, there is an increased spread and exchange of ideas, artistic forms of expression, information, and religious knowledge.  The focus of this review is the role of religion in popular music, specifically the rap /R&B genres.


The rap music genre started in the United States and now reaches as far as Saudi Arabia, and even the small country of Somalia in Africa.  In fact, just recently there was a hip/hop workshop in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.  The workshop provided local artists with the opportunity to sit down with others and share ideas to better their musical art.  Such a workshop helps artists to gain new ideas and perspectives and share new ways of performing or writing lyrics with a group of people who have similar dreams and believe in the power of rap music.  The Saudi and Somali people do not just see this type of music as a form of entertainment.  These artists delve deeper, utilizing the structure and beats of the music and lyrics to present a message deeply infused with religious influences and thoughts that pertain to the cultural and traditional views of the artists themselves.  One such artist, who has become quite popular world wide, is a Somali-Canadian many people know as K’naan. 


K’naan is an example of someone whose religious preference and upbringing plays an important role in the music they create.  He is of the Muslim faith, originally from Somalia, and is not just a rapper, but a poet, singer/songwriter, and instrumentalist.  K’naan uses his music to inform his listeners about the political unrest in Somalia, but he does not do so through vial, degrading lyrics or angry instrumentals.  Instead, he takes a peaceful approach to the way he addresses these issues.  He focuses on the idea that to promote peace, one must stay positive: one of the essential aspects of Islam.  K’naan’s music is powerful, peaceful, and profound.  He stays true to the Muslim view that giving is a vital part of the human experience, and that it is also a personal concept.  He uses his music as a quiet way to give back to his people and the world, and to help those in need, such as the Somali people during the civil unrest in Somalia.  K’naan is able to stay positive and maintain an upbeat but deeply moving musical career with the help of his Muslim upbringing.  His utilization of traditional instrumentals, modern lyrical flow, and ideals of the Muslim faith help him to revolutionize the rap/R&B genre.  His religious influences have aided him in the move away from angry explicit lyrics full of degrading comments and angst.  Instead, artists, like K’naan, use rap to spread a message of peace, discuss a difficult topic, or inform the world of issues in an artistic, complex, and entertaining way.  This concept of giving and providing help to others in a quiet, subtle way is very important in the Muslim faith, and K’naan has used rap music successfully to provide an outlet for this important religious aspect. 

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