The Somali-Canadian musician who rose to prominence rapping about the troubles in his African homeland and then superstardom this year with his South Africa World Cup hit Wavin’ Flag is being attacked after pulling out of a fundraising concert to benefit Africa at a Vancouver-area university.
Students organized the concert to mark World Peace Day and raise funds to help girls in Ghana get an education. But the student organizers say they – not K’naan – are to blame for the outcome of Tuesday’s concert.
Simon Fraser University’s I Vision One World (IVOW) club held a day-long series of fundraisers. An evening performance by K’naan was to be the highlight of the day, with the proceeds designated for the charity Direct Assistance Network, which works to fight poverty in Africa.
But after negotiations a couple of hours before K’naan and his band were to take the stage, his management pulled the plug.
The huge success of Wavin’ Flag, has made K’naan, who is based in Toronto, an international sensation. The World Cup hoopla inspired Kayode Fatoba, president of IVOW, and a second-year health sciences student, to ask K’naan to play its show. To Mr. Fatoba’s surprise, K’naan agreed.
Tickets were going for $30 each. But sales fell short of expectations. When K’naan’s management, who had received a down payment, asked for the rest of the agreed-upon fee before the show on Tuesday night, organizers weren’t able to pay.
“We tried to plead, to come to an agreement and maybe renegotiate something,” said Mr. Fatoba, 19. He spoke with K’naan’s tour manager at the concert site, and his manager, Sol Guy, by phone.
After the cancellation, the organizers who announced that the superstar would not appear told the audience they were $5,000 short of K’naan’s $40,000 fee. But on Thursday, they backed away from those figures.
K’naan’s management said that the amount owing was far more substantial: “in excess of 50 per cent short of the financial agreement.”
An SFU spokesperson says the university tried to help that night, offering an undisclosed amount. Concert organizers said K’naan’s management turned down the offer.
Mr. Guy said there was more to it than money. “It wasn’t just the financial issues. There were production issues,” he said, noting there were concerns at the sound check. He said this is the first time in K’naan’s seven-year career that he has pulled out of a performance for such a reason.
“I think [the organizers] really lacked experience. You can’t say just because you’re a charity that you can do no wrong. You have to be professional.”
The second-year students who organized the event say they blame themselves. “It’s our fault,” said Mr. Fatoba. “I don’t blame [K’naan] because at the end of the day, we said we were going to do something and we weren’t able to do it, so that’s the repercussion.
“We should have had some sort of contingency plan,” he continued. “There are a lot of lessons we’ve learned.”
K’naan did not want to speak about the matter on Thursday, according to Mr. Guy. “He’s disappointed. He didn’t want to let people down. But my job is to protect him from a bad environment.”
Mr. Fatoba said he feels no anger toward K’naan. “We were unable to meet the agreement, so no money, no show.”
But the vitriol that has resulted from the cancellation has been intense.
After Mr. Fatoba made the announcement on-stage, Clement Apaak, an SFU alumnus who runs the Direct Assistance Network, took the microphone and gave an angry speech targeting K’naan’s tour manager.
“The truth must be told,” he said to the crowd estimated to be between 700 and 1,000 people. “These guys did a great thing organizing everything and some blond-haired manager thought that she had the right to prevent us from getting to hear K’naan tonight.”
Mr. Guy said the content of the speech was disappointing. “What does the colour of her hair have to do with anything?”
Another speaker urged people to turn up to K’naan’s Vancouver concert this Saturday to voice their displeasure. “I’m gonna be there not as a ticket holder, but as a protester.”
Meanwhile anger against K’naan was exploding on social media sites. “Thanks for screwing over SFU! hope u enjoy the cash” was one message sent on Twitter to K’naan, who responded to the outpouring of anger with several Tweets, including, “The student union, whom I trust meant well ...
Mr. Guy said the rapper is questioning whether taking his anger to Twitter was the right thing to do. “K’naan wears his heart fully on his sleeve. He doesn’t hold his tongue. ... He felt attacked and wanted to defend himself.”
The student organizers are offering refunds to ticket-holders. They say the impact on the fundraising effort is minimal because the money raised from the concert was primarily intended to pay K’naan.
Mr. Guy says he is contractually entitled to ask for all of the money owed, but will not. He hasn’t decided whether to return the down payment.