K'naan arrived on the scene singing about struggle; his hit "Wavin' Flag" was a timely freedom anthem during the 2010 World Cup. But his new record, "Country, God, or the Girl," looks inward.
"I went to 22 countries in Africa, back to back, on tour," the Somalia-born artist says. "Seeing Africa to that degree freed me from having a narrow message in my music."
He says when a friend told him about working in refugee camps during the Rwandan genocide, it changed his perspective on global thinking.
"When people settled into the evening," he says, "nobody talked about the horrific tragedies that were happening. They were talking about their lost loves. And that hit me so deeply -- how human beings are having the same conversations everywhere, even in times of war and famine. Their favorite songs are always love songs. And I wasn't speaking to them in the place that was most important to them."
The singer says he has come to a conclusion about approa-ching certain subject matter.
"Love is harder than war," he says.
The sound of "Country, God, or the Girl" is a blend of pop and African melodies, and tracks mostly focus on internal conflict, relationships and personal growth.
"To progress musically, I had to open myself up," he says.
K'naan is also joined by a wishlist of high profile special guests, including Bono, Keith Richards, Will.i.am, Nas and Nelly Furtado. But no matter who is joining him, he says it all comes down to one person: "I've had the chance to write about my experiences in a difficult and violent life. ... But when the suffering and the pain is something that comes from within me, it's harder to react and to write about that."
Staying still for writing
K’naan says he doesn’t write while he’s on the road.
“I know that some artists that I’m friends with do that, but I just prefer there be distance between my being celebrated as an artist and my having something to share. Because ... being idolized on stage and then writing a song could be a little dangerous, I think. But when you are living, and nobody cares that you’re walking around in the street, your girlfriend is giving you a hard time and [so is] your family, all of that, that’s the context in which an artist writes. That’s when I like to write.”