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A Music Post: The Evolution of K’Naan’s ‘Wavin’ Flag’

Posted on 8 July 2010

A look at (almost) every version of “Wavin’ Flag”

Way back one year ago, I had a music blog. This was when I thought I might actually be able to start and maintain a blog about a single thing (in this case, Canadian music) without being distracted by other subject areas. The fact that we’re here today with a blog themed around whatever strikes my fancy should serve as an indication of how well that went.

Anyhow, one of my more popular posts was a February preview of the then-upcoming sophomore release by a little known Somalian-Canadian rapper known as K’Naan. Oh, what’s that? You’ve heard of him? Well maybe that’s because he’s now possibly THE BIGGEST MOST GLOBAL ARTIST IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Which is weird, because at the time it seemed like literally nobody else had heard of him except one other dude I worked with, who also could quote full lyrics from NWA album cuts, so that shows you where he was. K’Naan as global brand ambassador for Coke is like when the White Stripes went from being this band whose albums I had to order from the States to on the PA system on McDonald’s over a matter of months thanks to ‘Seven Nation Army.’ One amazing song, and things get kind of surreal.

In K’Naan’s case, that song is “Wavin’ Flag.” And as I’ve just learned, this song is enjoying truly global success thanks not only to its great tune and inspirational lyrics (Coke-sanctioned, in the case of the Celebration remix), but also because there are literally twenty different official versions of the thing, each a duet with a singer from various countries. I’d already Tweeted about the Nigerian version, but the fact that there’s twenty of these things out there, each enjoying success in the country they’re aimed at, intrigues me enough to hunt them all down and put them here for you, along with a couple of other versions besides. Get ready to feel a mixture of world unity and anger over how such a great song has been corrupted by a clear corporate message and confusion over whether or not that actually detracts from the song itself:

[audio:http://8028002764414793937-a-1802744773732722657-s-sites.googlegroups.com/site/canconcatalogue/Home/WavingFlag.mp3?attachauth=ANoY7cqd2JPy2kfNB8PbB00YPbo7sc63-JQYRYTJeCFe9EAezMKSzygGwA7VLau6Bo2lMLLRgQVW_K2KSXXZgWFMl-HE2_5CFIE3RJmY-xfUvSvWz8A0PJ8xa1eqX6km9t6VVllOj6QtK1lUwzkkOLIWrYOZ6iyzsZShwCR2fd2wix3C95PrgjEifhrn836MzafoR-c59MiPsV5tl7PRa3w36bfak85v8w%3D%3D&attredirects=1]

Wavin’ Flag – Live ‘Q’ Performance

This was the first version of the song I, and most other pre-Coke fans, heard. It was a live performance on CBC’s ‘Q’ and instantly grabbing. Please note the prophecy contained near the end of “and you and I will be singing it! And we all will be singing it!” Bonus note: this post got me my one and only take-down notice, later rescinded.

[audio:http://themusicninja.net/mp3s/knaan-wavin_flag.mp3]

Wavin’ Flag – Original Album Version

So good was the live performance, that I criticized the album for not being organic enough and losing something of the message in the rush for commercial appeal. How naive I was.

[audio:http://themusicninja.net/newsongs/KNAAN%20-%20Wavin%20Flag%20(The%20Celebration%20remix).mp3]

Wavin’ Flag – the Celebration Remix

K'Naan Waves Coke's Flag

And here we go. With the addition of a more upbeat rhythm section, the removal of lyrics about violence and war, we are given a full-on Coke-sanctioned version of the song. The World Cup as a proxy for war? In the case of the lyrics for this song, it’s a full-on replacement.

Wavin’ Flag – Young Artists for Haiti Version

But that’s not to say K’Naan completely sold out to the Man. His defenses of the new version aside, he also chose to use his song as a 21st-century ‘We Are the World’ in the wake of the Haiti earthquake disaster, teaming up with ‘Young Artists for Canada‘ (which, in something of a misnomer, includes Tom Cochrane and members of Blue Rodeo). In an ironic twist, given that this version is actually about world events and stuff, this version sounds even more disgustingly, pointedly uplifting than the commercial version. But it’s for a good cause.

[audio:http://groovebat.com/embed.php?id=j6]

Wavin’ Flag – David Guetta & will.i.am international version

For some inexplicable reason, the non-Coke international release of the song was remixed by David Guetta and will.i.am, who add nothing except terrible stutter beats and autotune repeats of K’Naan’s vocals. The fact that this version of the song was released everywhere except Canada is just one more reason I’m grateful I live where I do.

Bilingual Celebration Mixes

Rather than go into a critique of each of these versions, pretending like I have any knowledge of the artists involved, I’m just going to post them for you to do as you like. The one I do have something to say about is the Nigerian version, because I was first alerted to it by the blog Get Mziki, who reported on a bit of cultural politics surrounding the World Cup songs:

For those who have been following the South Africa world cup preparations, you know the “fiasco” about the SA officials changing the OFFICIAL WORLD CUP song from K’Naans “Waving flag” to Shakiras “Waka Waka” . We always say that Africa music needs to be heard across the seas and borders and this is one example where we could use the soccer platform to showcase the musical talent we have in Africa, but instead we are “promoting” and showcasing other artists. K’Naan definitely deserves the official song spot. However, since the Shakira’s song (Feat South African band Freshly Ground) was selected by FIFA as the official anthem for the 2010 World Cup, tons of African radio stations have stopped playing it insisting that “Waving Flag” was a better representation of Africa.

I’m always a fan of learning about artists who are a huge in their home countries but obscure anywhere else, and these twenty versions seem as good a place as any to start exploring popular artists in Vietnam, Mongolia, Hungary, and more. Here they are, in a nice YouTube playlist (actually, this is only the 16 versions I could find. If you have more, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. Official versions only please.)

Versions in this playlist:

1. “Wavin’ Flag/Shagga’ Bi Alamak” by K’naan and Nancy Ajram (Isreal/Arab World)
2. “Comemorar” by K’naan and Skank (Brazil)
3. “Wavin’ Flag” (Chinese: 旗开得胜) by K’naan Jacky Cheung and Jane Zhang (China)
4. “Wavin’ Flag ” by K’naan and Féfé (France)
5. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and Professional Sinnerz feat. Komis X (Greece)
6. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and MikaBen (Haiti)
7. “Nálunk van a labda” – anchors and sport reporters of Magyar Televízió (Hungary)
8. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and Jasim (India)
9. “Wavin’ Flag/Semangat Berkibar” by K’naan and Ipang (Indonesia)
10. “Wavin’ Flag” (Japanese: ウェイヴィン・フラッグ) by K’naan and Ai (Japan)
11. “Wavin’ Flag” – P.Bayartsengel, D.Anu, E.Solongo and E.Soyombo (Mongolia)
12. “Wavin’ Flag (Naija Remix)” by K’naan and Banky W. & M.I. (Nigeria)
13. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and David Bisbal (Spain)
14. “Wavin’ Flag/Ekama Irak Yata” by K’naan, remixed by Pradeep (Sri Lanka)
15. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and Tattoo Colour (Thailand)
16. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and Phương Vy (Vietnam)

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