Critical Literacy - Perspective | K'naan, Dave Matthews Band

K'naan's Until the Lion Learns to Speak and Dave Matthews Band's Don't Drink the Water look at songs from two different racial and cultural perspectives that students can explore more in depth.


I found out about this K'naan song from my classmate Allison Harding at OISE when we were doing literature circle presentations and novel promotions.  They played this song for Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave

Hailing from Somalia, Canadian musician K'naan plays with themes of migration, diaspora, and exile.  This song looks at the call to rename, reclaim and retell histories and modern day realities of oppression and violence from the voice of the "Other".  Students can explore issues of racism and teachers can explore histories outside the Euro-centric curricula.

Until the Lion Learns to Speak by K'naan
Until the lion learns to speak
The tales of hunting will be weak
My poetry hales within the streets
My poetry fails to be discrete
It travels across the earth and seas
From Eritrea to the West Indies
It knows no boundaries
No cheese
It studied in parts of Greece
(runtaa hadii kale waxaan lahaa aaheey)
I am sick as far as lyrics
And with this far as gimmicks
I spit par age and limit
The shit they talk in rapid
I am hip the hop as living
I skip the obvious woman
Don't get what I am presenting
No rims my mind spinning
(runtaa hadii kale waxaan lahaa aaheey)

I was born and raised in a place
Where torn of flame would place
Where the foreigners not embrace
Where they warn you jog and pace
Where loners low what they gaze
Where the corners slow at a chase
Where they tarts and turn in the maze
With the pistol upon your face
(runtaa hadii kale waxaan lahaa aaheey)
So come with me to my longs
The death and deal we run
With passion see how I come
No cash I am free in the slums
The past can we overcome
I am asking we be the ones
To actually be the ones
To free our people from gun
(hadii kale waxaan lahaa aaheey)
I heard about this next song by Dave Matthews from another OISE classmate Stephen Cunneen who conducted a School and Society seminar on Peggy McIntosh's controversial article "White Privilege and Male Privilege".  This song discusses the appropriation of Native land in the States, but definitely also an issue in many parts of Canada.  What's interesting about this song is it looks at the issue from the perspective of a white privileged benefactor of a history of oppression. 

Don't Drink the Water by Dave Matthews Band
Come out, come out, no use in hiding.
Come now, come now, can you not see
There's no place here, what were you expecting?
No room for both, just room for me.

So you will lay your arms down,
Yes, I will call this home.

Away, away, you have been banished.
Your land is gone, and given to me.

And here I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.

What's this you say, you feel a right to remain?
Then stay and I will bury you.

What's that you say, your father's spirit still lives in this place?
Well, I will silence you.

Here's the hitch, your horse is leaving.
Don't miss your boat, it's leaving now.

And as you go I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.
I have no time to justify to you,
Fool, you're blind, move aside for me.

All I can say to you my new neighbor,
You must move on or I will bury you.

Now as I rest my feet by this fire
Those hands once warmed here, but I have retired them.
I can breathe my own air and I can sleep more soundly
Upon these poor souls,
I'll build Heaven and call it home.
Cause you're all dead now.

I live with my justice
And I live with my greedy need
I live with no mercy
And I live with my frenzied feeding
I live with my hatred
And I live with my jealousy
I live with the notion that I don't need anyone but me

Don't Drink the Water
Don't Drink the Water
Blood in the water
Don't Drink the Water
Teachers can juxtapose these two songs and allow students to critically look at the position the musicians take.  Eddy (2007) suggests holding a debate on the socio-political issues embedded in the songs (Research #2, 145).  Here are a few of my own questions and suggestions:
  • Describe the tone of K'naan's song.  What images come to mind as you listen to the drum beat and background vocals?  How does this compare to the Dave Matthews' song?
  • Use a graphic organizer or venn diagram, to compare the concerns of both artists when it comes to issues of race and history.
  • How does the theme of migration play out in K'naan's song? What words, imagery, and elements does he use to present the idea of travel and movement in his song?
  • Dave Matthews' song looks at the issue of First Nations appropriation from an outspoken, present day voice.  How does the theme of exploitation and rootedness play out in this song?  Explain the image of "blood in the water" through historical examples of mistreatment of First Nations peoples in Canadian history.

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