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Canadian musicians help cover K'naan single for Haiti relief

Canada's musical stars have aligned to help Haiti.

TORONTO - Canada's musical stars have aligned to help Haiti.

Avril Lavigne, Drake and Nelly Furtado are among the 57 artists performing together on a remixed version of K'naan's anthem "Wavin' Flag," which was to be available for sale digitally at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday morning.

Proceeds will equally benefit Free the Children, War Child Canada and World Vision Canada and their individual efforts to provide relief to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Canadian Bob Ezrin produced the track in a dizzying nine days.

He says he was thrilled to work with K'naan - the Somalian-born, Toronto-raised hip-hop artist who included the original version of "Wavin' Flag" on his 2009 sophomore album, "Troubadour" - complimenting him as one of Canada's "most important new artists," and for his determined work ethic.

K'naan, for his part, similarly marvelled at Ezrin's dogged drive. But he wasn't entirely certain he meant the comment as a compliment.

"He was obsessive," a laughing K'naan told The Canadian Press over the line from a tour stop in London.

"Even I was like, when this song's finished, I'm going to talk to Bob about taking it easy. It was unbelievable. I would hear from him at like 4 a.m. - he would text or call or email. There was nothing but this song in his life.

"His heart was really in it. And he wanted it to be as beautiful and as touching as possible, and you can tell. There was no moment of rest that you got from him."

Indeed, Ezrin acknowledges he endured two weeks of sleepless nights as he assembled the song. But it was, in fact, a pretty massive undertaking.

In addition to the aforementioned names, other marquee performers who were wrangled into Vancouver's Warehouse Studio included Justin Bieber, Sam Roberts, Broken Social Scene, Kardinal Offishall, Metric and Nikki Yanofsky.

Universal Music Canada president and CEO Randy Lennox initially approached Ezrin with the idea and he eagerly agreed to help after about "two and a half seconds" of deliberation.

Ezrin and K'naan began by re-working the song's lyrics over the telephone, with Ezrin in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the globe-trotting rapper in Mozambique. They went back and forth, "racking up our phone bill and singing lines to each other," K'naan said.

Where the original "Wavin' Flag" was written about summoning the strength to endure the violence of war-torn Somalia, Ezrin said he and K'naan wanted to shift the emphasis so the revised track was more about "rising from the rubble, rebuilding, overcoming adversity, and a little less about war."

And some of the song's cast of voices came with their own ideas.

Asked which of the tune's many collaborators offered particularly exciting takes, Ezrin reeled off a knot of names, including Lavigne, Yanofsky, Furtado, Bieber, Roberts, Emily Haines and Jully Blake.

He also singled out Drake, the 23-year-old Toronto rapper who penned his own verse for the track that "just hit the whole message on the head and raised the song up to a whole other level," Ezrin said.

"Drake absolutely floored me with his intelligence, his funky-ness, his sensitivity, and his brilliant approach to language," he said.

Musically, the new version of the tune is a step slower, with an increased majestic sweep and an instrumental chart that Ezrin says is more emotional, but K'naan says "Wavin' Flag" hasn't really changed much.

And it was, in fact, important to Ezrin to retain the contemporary feel of the original, which had already been remixed once before to serve as Coca-Cola's anthem for the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

"Primarily, our goal was to speak to young people, to say to them: 'You have the power to effect change,"' he explained.

"We wanted a track that wasn't going to turn them off because it sounded like their grandfather's polka."

And of course, the ultimate goal is to help Haitians who, months after the earthquake, are still in crisis.

K'naan remembers the feeling that washed over him when he first learned of the devastation.

"I just had this overwhelming helplessness," he recalled. "I just remember feeling this blanket of gloom over me, and thinking: 'Man, here we go. As if they needed just one more thing, you know?"'

Ezrin had felt similarly powerless following the tragedy.

"When the earthquake occurred, I was as horrified as everybody else," he said. "I tried to do my little bit from Nashville, where we're living. You know, sent money, went to meetings. But I always felt a little bit inadequate in my response. . . .

"I was honoured and very happy to be able to pull this together."

 
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