By Jim Simpson
Hope. Love. Peace. Political awareness. Passion. Intelligence. Singer-songwriter Nneka exudes all these things and much more.
With the release of Concrete Jungle, her U.S. debut, she’s been touted as the next big thing, despite having critical success in Europe since 2007, and drawing high praise from critics and musicians alike.
Nneka is a major talent in her own right, but the comparisons are inevitable: equal measures Tracy Chapman, Sade, Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley (the album title a nod to the latter’s major-label debut masterpiece).
From the dancehall-tinged and freestyle rapping of “Preaching Love” and “Focus” to the sultry soul of “Mind VS Heart,” she indeed focuses on a message of universal love and peace while remaining incredibly grounded in the realization that the world does not always share the same views and does not always cooperate. Nneka’s is a yin-yang worldview: “Peace is when we have realized that the negative and positive belong together … a healthy equilibrium between extremes.”
Raised in Nigeria’s Delta region of Warri, at 19 she left for Hamburg University in Germany to study anthropology. It was there that she carved out time enough to cut demos and perform between courses, quickly becoming a sought-after act at festivals from Paris to Madrid.
No shrinking violet, on “Africans” she tells Nigerians to stop blaming their problems on their colonial past, and start looking to themselves for answers. “Wake up, world! Wake up and stop sleeping/Wake up, Africa! Wake up and stop blaming.” Confronting touchy subjects fearlessly, she says “I do it in a sweet way – but I sing to speak the truth.”
Throughout this disc, Nneka’s stunning voice is the common thread connecting her multi-layered, thumping and melodic message.