Hauts et bas d'un artiste afro-canadien

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Extrait de "Between the highs and the lows, life happens" de K'naan

I was a teenager in Toronto when it first hit me. The intolerable fear of insanity. You see, as Somalis, the fine art of psychoanalysis is not something we’ve learned to appreciate. You’re either a crazy person or you’re not. And since I didn’t really know any Canadians, there was no one to explain to me the sudden flood of anxiety attacks, depression and insomnia.

It’s fitting, I thought. I’ve escaped a war with minor injuries, adopted a new country where even laziness could be transformed into an opportunity for success, and I thought I would get away clean? Of course there had to be some tragic balance to this overbearing fortune. God, I thought, did I really have to choose between peace and sanity. I remember having these thoughts alone in a living room, pacing up and down, opening and closing windows in a frenzy, but one mid-afternoon when I ended up in a bathtub still half dressed, I decided that I should tell someone.

Mom said that the answer was in the Koran. My answer to her was, didn’t the Koran say to seek help from professionals? And so we did. Doctor after doctor, blood test after blood test, and they would all conclude that I was fine, almost blushing about how perfectly healthy I was. It went on this way for a while, but the unsummoned tears continued, the voices in my head were getting more opinionated than my own voice. So I made excuses to hide from it. It was all beginning to be too painful to live with.

At this point I was already fancying myself as someone with some musical talent. I could often find a little poetry in me if I needed to. Kids in the neighbourhood thought I could rap and if, on a good day, I went to the mall with friends, I would spend all my time inside Radio Shack playing their little keyboards until they kicked me out for not buying.

My first songs were written in this condition. One song, called Voices In My Head, I remember writing during a particularly torturous anxiety attack. I had gotten the news of a Somali boy who was a friend in Toronto, leaping to his death from the 20-something floor of an old high-rise we once lived in.

Another song, a kind of a happy one actually, In The Beginning, was written and recorded on my way to check into the emergency room. A minor stop to a major event, I thought. In reality, all my life was in the minor key, but it was out of defiance that I wrote it all on major.

And where am I now? I suppose they’re right to say that I’m flying high. I was recently honoured with two Juno awards for these songs of desperation.

And at the moment, I’m writing this on a plane from China where I had just performed at the World Expo. But once again, it seems that the great balancing act is in motion. Somalia is worse now than it was when I left at age 13. And while my career has some mentionable highs, my romantic life is adorned with the quiet lows. So I suppose this all means more songs.

I didn’t turn out to be an optometrist. But I do hope that in some way, my music opens an eye or two, to a great continent of both immeasurable beauty and struggle. And to my own life, written as a country disguised as a person.
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