Sounds of Africa: Nneka

I am so excited about today's post because I actually have a guest with me to talk to you about today's artist: Nneka Egbuna! Nneka has been in my line-up of artists to share with you for a little while but she shot straight to the top when I found out that she was in Virginia last Saturday. My family was in town this weekend so it was a no-go for me, but my trusty friend Azara was more than willing and able to represent on my behalf.

Azara actually has a few things in common with the artists which make her the perfect guest to write about Nneka:

- being from Nigeria - Azara is from the city of Jos while Nneka hails from Warri
- being biracial - Azara is Russian/Nigerian while Nneka is German/Nigerian
- both migrated to other pastures in their late teens - Azara to the U.S. and Nneka to Germany
- both with souls as deep as the ocean's floor.
So without much ado.....

I just learnt about Nneka Egbuna on Saturday night while trying to find something interesting to do. After listening to a few song’s I was hucked. I couldn’t believe she was playing so close to me and that the show was only $10. I quickly called my girls and even though Brandie was a total flake (something about family in town), I was able to get a partner in crime to come along with me.

Let's talk a bit about the artist: Nneka is Nigerian/German, and definitely seems to identify more with her Nigerian roots. Born in Warri (Niger delta area) and having lived there 'till she was 18, Nneka seems to have had some challenges in her childhood. She doesn’t speak much about the details of past, but I think her experiences comes out in her music. She seems unafraid to share her emotions about her past and the place she calls home.

When Nneka comes out on stage, she is rather small, contrary to the voice the belts out and her powerful presence on stage. She is in baggy pants, baggy top and a messy curly afro (sorta like mine when it's unsubjugated). From the interviews I saw before heading to the concert, she doesn’t seem to care much about “conventional” fashion. She also speaks in pidgin English (Nigerian version of English), contrary to expectations of a “halfcast” (bi-racial) child that grew up in Nigeria.

She sings a lot about corruption. One song in particular had the word VIP in it: Vagabon In Power, which she had us repeat during every chorus of that song (crowd participation – I like it). She also sang about the issues in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the exploitation of the communities by oil companies, corrupt Nigerian leaders and about Ken Saro Wiwa who was an activist in the Niger Delta that was killed. When she isn't singing about the struggles of Nigerians, she has some slower more savory songs about the heart. She’s been compared to many great artists like to Erykah Badu, Neneh Cherry and Floetry. She refers to Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Mobb Depp and Lauryn Hill as key influences.

With only 4 or 5 years of musical history, I assumed there would be a 50% hit, however I was wrong! I stood up for the entire 2 hour show. I wasn’t sure how to dance to the music because it’s a mixture of rave, african and neo-soul, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I found her performance to be great. She’s not an entertainer per-say, more so the energy on stage and her lyrics seem to just sit in your body when you hear them. My favorite songs are Heartbreak, Kangpe, The Uncomfortable Truth (featured right above), Walking, and Mind vs. Heart.

So I have to be honest, when I first heard her speak in pidgin English, I was taken aback. She spoke in a way that transported me back to the streets of Lagos from my childhood. I didn't like it at first, however I have warmed up to unabashed way she chooses to express herself. Many Africans, including myself, typically change their accents to blend in with the European/American accent. But whether Nneka is talking to German journalists, French interviewers or a crowd of Americans, she sticks to her accent and everything about her Nigerian culture and heritage. Now when I read her quotes, I replace words like "the" with "de" and so on. It's fun.

I love that she is so consistent about how her whole career isn't about her at all, but about Nigeria and getting people to open their ears, hearts, and minds to what is happening there and she is very effective. After listening to her songs, I went back to review the issues of the Niger Delta. I was appalled at the pollution and devastation still existing there. I think this is the first time I’ve really wanted to understand the Niger Delta issue. So I have to hand it to her for getting me courageous enough to read the stories.

My only caveat with her is that I wish she would articulate the issues regarding her motivation and the issues of Nigeria a bit clearer. It’s all well and good to sing about bad leaders, bad companies and thieving people but it’s much more helpful to come up with a perspective that captures the issues / underlying problems and to suggest possible solutions. This seemed to be lacking in her lyrics and during interviews. That said, I am still impressed about her desire to raise the issue.

If Nneka is performing anywhere near your town, you gotta go and see her!

I would definitely love to get your feedback on this and for those of you interested in hearing more about Nneka, check out these interviews here, here, and here (you can see what Azara was talking about regarding her accent). You can also click here to hear one of my personal favorites from Nneka....a sweet little acoustic number!

Well, that's it for another week here on Out and About Africa! I really hope you enjoyed the week with me and I look forward to sharing so much more creativity from Africa with you next week.

Have a great weekend!!

{Photos: LastFM and Kmeron}



great review, Azara! Wish i could have made it to see Nneka, but sleep won out instead.

Nice write up!

liz said...

Good write up! It's nice to see her getting some coverage that isn't to do with the Chase & Status remix....
There's a detailed interview with her here too: http://tiny.cc/w5cq5