Thursday, February 02, 2012

K'NAAN to Mitt Romney: "Take My Flag Down"

by Gregg Chadwick

Portrait of K'NAAN

I find it intriguing how an artwork over the years gathers a life of its own through changes in context and in reference to global events. The uproar over Mitt Romney's use this week of K'NAAN's infectious hit Wavin' Flag is the latest in a long series of political events in which conservative politicians have misappropriated the music of politically progressive musicians in an effort to appear hip or part of the zeitgeist.

I was in Berlin during the 2010 World Cup and K'NAAN's World Cup Theme Wavin' Flag thundered across the Tiergarten in the shadow of the angel capped Siegessäule. At the Kennedy Museum, a short walk away through the Brandenburg Gate, an exhibit of photographs by Nadav Kander illuminated President Obama and the members of his team. In the Tiergarten two years earlier in 2008, Barack Obama had given one of his most impressive campaign speeches.

Nadav Kander Exhibit at the Kennedy Museum, Berlin
July 2010
Photo by Gregg Chadwick

 Even though Germany lost that night in South Africa to the eventual championship team from Spain, K'NNAN's song of global harmony seemed to buoy the crowd watching the match on giant screens in Berlin. K'NAAN, a Somali born Canadian musical artist, sings an infectious plea for togetherness and goodwill in his rousing Wavin' Flag. But the flag imagery in the lyrics must have proved too irresistible for Mitt Romney's campaign. As Romney walked to the podium to speak to his supporters after his primary win in Florida on Tuesday night, K'NAAN's hit roared from the speakers. K'NAAN soon tweeted back:

 K'naan Warsame 

Yo  I am K'naan Warsame and I do not endorse this message.

In a statement released yesterday K'NAAN expressed outrage that Mitt Romney would have the gall to use his song:

A&M/Octone recording artist K'NAAN was dismayed to learn that his song "Waving Flag" was used by Mitt Romney in his speech last night following Florida's Republican primary.  The artist was not aware that the song would be used by Romney and the campaign is not something K'NAAN endorses.  
"I have not been asked for permission by Mitt Romney's campaign for the use of my song. If I had been asked, I would certainly not have granted it." 
"I would happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song."  
K'NAAN is currently seeking legal action so that further use of the song by Romney's campaign can be prevented. 

The Romney camp retreated from the controversy by responding that the use of the song was licensed under current ASCAP regulations but they would respect K'NNAN's wishes and refrain from further use. Unfortunately, this will not be the last time a politician misuses a song, As MTV reports:

This is far from the first time a politician has used a song without an artist's permission — actually, this isn't even the first incident this week. According to TMZ, Survivor filed a lawsuit Monday against Newt Gingrich for using their song "Eye of the Tiger" at his events. During the 2008 presidential election, Jackson Browne sued John McCain for his use of "Running on Empty," and JohnMellencamp asked McCain to stop scoring his campaign stops with "Our Country."

As I write this, I think back to that evening in Berlin during the World Cup. For many of us, Berlin and the towering Siegessäule bring to mind Wim Wenders' films Wings of Desire and the haunting sequel, Faraway, So Close, which opens with the angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) standing on the statue of the Angel of Victory overlooking post-Cold War Berlin. Many times as the centuries pass, art that was at first created to celebrate fleeting military victories over past or imagined enemies loses its local memory and becomes part of all humanity's memories. Wim Wenders was able to shake the Siegessäule loose from the spectres of Prussian militarism and into the post-Cold War world. For one night at least, underneath that monument the world was brought together a little bit more. The World Cup is truly a global event that brings countries together through the joy of sport and camaraderie. K'NAAN's rousing Wavin' Flag provided a fitting soundtrack to that event. 

I am also reminded of Obama's speech from Berlin in 2008. On that day he said that, "This is the moment to stand as one." While Mitt Romney says,"I’m not concerned about the very poor." Is it any wonder that K'NAAN gave permission for President Obama to use his song as a rally cry and that K'NAAN told Romney to "Take my Flag Down"?

Gregg Chadwick
Flag: World Cup Berlin 2010
30"x22" monotype on paper

Further Thoughts at:

K'Naan To Romney: 'My Music Is Concerned With The Very Poor'

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