Band of the Day

2012.01.14

Nneka

Politically-conscious soul music straight from the heart of Africa
I gave him wings to let him fly, I let him go so I could grow.
lyrics from Confession

Nneka Lucia Egbuna (b. December 24, 1980), better known as just Nneka, is a Nigerian-German soul singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Born and raised in Warri, Nigeria, to a Nigerian father and a German mother, Nneka began singing at an early age in her school and church choirs. At the age of 19, she moved to Hamburg, Germany to pursue a career in singing and a degree in anthropology. There, she began working with hip hop producer DJ Farhot, and first gained public attention as an opening act for Sean Paul in 2004. Her debut EP, The Uncomfortable Truth, was released in 2005 with Yo Mama's Recording Company. It was followed shortly by her debut album, Victim of Truth, later that same year. Nneka's music is known for being both political and personal, and for mixing soul, hip hop, and reggae. She cites artists such as Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill, and Mos Def as key musical influences. Her first US release, Concrete Jungle, was released in 2010. Her latest album, Soul Is Heavy, was released in 2011.

Warri, Nigeria's Nneka is an artist on a mission: to use her music as a voice for Africa. She's been known to wear sweatshirts with sayings like “Africa is the future” prominently displayed on the front, and her lyrics often tackle political, social, and even religious issues of her birthplace. Born to a Nigerian father and a German mother, Nneka has split her time living between Nigeria and Germany. As a result, her music is a cross-cultural mosaic that mixes elements of soul, hip hop, and reggae. An accomplished singer, songwriter, and guitarist, she's already made a name for herself across Africa and Europe. Now, with the US release of Concrete Jungle—a compilation of songs from her first two albums—her goal is to, in her own words, Africanize the United States with her music. Even the album cover serves as a visualization of her mission: a map of Africa is layered over Nneka's stoic face, but with countries replaced by states like Louisiana and Texas, and scraps of the American flag. “Showin' Love” is the album's opening track, and it's driven by a looped accordion line that sounds distinctly old-world European. Nneka alternates between rapping and singing, showing that she's just as accomplished in both styles. “Come With Me” has a jazzier feel, led by a tranquil, gently-plucked acoustic guitar. Although Nneka's vocals start out more subdued, by the end she proves that she's not the type of woman who will back down submissively: “No, you can't take my soul away/No you can't make me go astray/Because I know where I stand!” Swirling, psychedelic organs combined with a reggae-style guitar riff makes “Suffri” almost sound like it could be an early Santana song—if Santana originated in Kingston, Jamaica instead of San Francisco. “Kangpe,” which features Canadian rapper Wesley Williams, seamlessly alternates between English and Igbo (a Nigerian dialect). Though the lyrics are distinctly rooted in Christianity (“As you walk through the valley of the shadow of death/You will fear no evil,” Nneka adopts from a popular Bible psalm), the beat is more suited to a dancehall than to a church. If Nneka's passionately energetic songs on Concrete Jungle are meant to serve as a new voice for Africa, we say Mission: Accomplished.