Hip-hop artist K'naan revealed how an emotional and heart-rending visit to his homeland of Somalia this year intensified his desire to devote his music to social good.
The 33-year-old creator of the hit song "Wavin' Flag," which became an international sensation as the theme of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, boarded the last commercial flight out of Somalia 20 years ago before civil war ravaged his nation and sparked a humanitarian crisis.
Already firmly entrenched as a socially conscious artist, witnessing the impact of catastrophic famine on his stricken fellow countrymen during his recent visit prompted him to redouble his efforts to affect positive change.
"It is a good moment to be in service of people," K'naan said. "I don't really know what other life to lead than one which is in service of others."
While in Somalia, K'naan met and spoke with sufferers of disease and malnutrition at one of the makeshift camps set up in the capital, Mogadishu. Once one of the most picturesque cities in Africa, the city is now a tragic, crumbling reminder of two decades of conflict. He also visited the hospital where both he and supermodel Iman were born, now in a dilapidated state and drastically under-resourced.
"The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia," K'naan wrote in an article for the New York Times. "And the world's collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now."
K'naan attempts to raise awareness of Somalia's plight will continue on Saturday, as he performs as one of the headline acts of "A Decade of Difference" concert, celebrating President Bill Clinton's charitable efforts.
The artist is already a friend of President Clinton's, having performed at the closing ceremony of the Clinton Global Initiative last month. Following K'naan's performance, Clinton made an impromptu visit to the stage to congratulate him on his performance and to raise awareness of the difficulties still raging in Somalia.
"My country fell out of the pocket of life," K'naan said.
Somalia's weak United Nations-backed government is under threat from Islamic insurgents including the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militant group, which refuses to allow aid organizations to enter the southern areas of the country that it controls.
As Somalia's problems raged throughout the past two decades, the memories of life in Mogadishu continued to affect K'naan, even after members of his family had moved to Canada. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder believed to be related to incidents from his childhood, including surviving a machine gun attack that killed three of his friends.
After arriving in Canada, he taught himself English largely from hip-hop music and television. Despite admitting that he sometimes spent months at a time as a social recluse in his bedroom, music gradually became his escape route towards a normal life.
"My mother was suspicious of Western medicine so she didn't want me to get treatment for the stress disorder," K'naan told Yahoo! Sports at the World Cup. "My way out of it was through music. By writing and singing about my experiences I could come to terms with it."
Critical acclaim began to filter in following his 2005 album "The Dusty Foot Philosopher," but it was "Troubadour" (released in 2009 and recorded at Bob Marley's old house in Jamaica) which established him as an international star and gave him the platform to exercise the kind of charitable influence he wished for.
"A Decade of Difference," featuring K'naan, Lady Gaga, Usher, Bono, and The Edge, plus several other leading artists, will be broadcast on October 15 starting at 7pm PT, live and exclusively on Yahoo!.