For many, home is a word merely describing your country or region of origin. A place you are expected to live in peace, enjoy familial ties and build communal relationships. A place that allows you to lead a dignified life and accords you the opportunity to earn a decent livelihood. A place you are free to leave and return as you wish…
Yet this isn’t always the case. According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes. Reasons for displacement vary from persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations to events seriously disturbing public order.
UNHCR says that out of this number, nearly 35.3 million are refugees who have sought safety in other countries. But as any refugee will tell you, reaching new shores away from violence doesn’t always guarantee peace of mind.
Living in a foreign country presents a new set of problems for asylum seekers, key among them the issue of identity. This is something that Canada-based Somali musician K’naan is all too familiar with and explores it on his new single ‘Refugee’.
The song, whose video was released during World Refugee Day on 20 June, wants to help restore humanity and reinstate a sense of pride among this group of people, who are often weighed down by feelings of hopelessness, grief, longing – and worse, the inability to tell who they are any more.
Commenting about the song, K’naan says: “Growing up, every time someone called me a refugee, I recoiled. [This is why] I wanted to flip the meaning of the word, and make it something that people will wear proudly.”
Forced to flee Somalia at a young age as the civil war raged on, K’naan temporarily found refuge in Kenya before ending up in Canada. A refugee may find the comfort and security his homeland could not offer but the feeling of alienation lingers on, creeping up and depriving the chance to find true inner peace. This is not helped by hostilities, implicit or explicit, sometimes directed at people in the face of rising ultranationalism.
It’s this conflict that K’naan has sought to address on the single, pointing out why refugees need not cower in shame because of their situation. Sparse in instrumentation, it’s the vocals that carry the message-laden song with K’naan’s singing elevated by a choral-like background accompaniment that gives the song a haunting, cinematic feel. The video itself is a central device delivering the song’s message.
As it cuts to clips of refugees around the world – some in camps, others on the move: on foot, on rickety, overcrowded sea vessels, on trains, K’naan sings:
If I was gonna be free, I’d have to change my name
Mama don’t feel shame. My old name was all wrong
I have waited for so long to decide my destiny
Somebody call me refugee and I will wear it proudly.
Praised for incorporating Somali folk traditions in his work, K’naan is at his socially conscious best, as he continues to call for an end to conflict, especially in his home country. ‘Refugee’ heralds K’naan’s first full album in nearly 10 years, expected to come out this summer.
Distribution: [Merlin] Symphonic Distribution