Nneka beyond borders – an exclusive interview
Nneka is a rare gem in the marketplace of wannabe neo-soul acts trying to capitalize on the resurgent sounds of yesteryear. Born and raised in the Warri, in the Delta region of Nigeria, to a (Igbo) Nigerian father and a German mother, Nneka’s connection to hip-hop culture is undeniable. Yes, she’s toured with Lenny Kravitz (2009) and been a part of the Lilith Fair Concert Tour (2010), but she’s got hip-hop pedigree to boot, having toured with Nas and Damian Marley to promote their Distant Relatives tour, and calling Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Lauryn Hill equally influential in her own life as was Fela Kuti and Bob Marley.
Fresh off of her 2012 album release Soul is Heavy, “her lyrics reflect much of her history and life in Nigeria as well as her time spent in Western Europe. Her songs stress the issues of capitalism, poverty and war and are often loaded with moral and biblical messages and references.”
The following is an exclusive interview conducted by World Hip Hop Market’s Eve Hyman.
By Eve Hyman (for World Hip Hop Market)
NEW YORK CITY – Nneka is playing the Beacon and I am riveted, watching her pour both voice and soul to a crowd thirsty for what she has to offer. Purple light hits her hair as she sings “Shining Star.” She leads with emotion, talking to the audience about overcoming fear. Nneka moves into the next song, strapping on a guitar. The drummer begins with booming bass drum, then the keys come in. It’s a big sound and a big crowd, but Nneka herself stands pensive, it’s just her and NYC. She begins singing and her voice is lush, then it spreads out and gains volume, effortlessly hitting the highs.
Nneka Egbuna was born in Nigeria and moved to Germany at 16. She’s a singer and songwriter who blends hip-hop, afrobeat and reggae. She calls her music a relationship between two loves, Africa and The West.
The video for “My Home” was shot in Lagos. In the video, Nneka shifts from worker to businesswoman to religious village woman praying on the city street. “Heartbeat” and “Stay” include haunting vocals, drums and piano melodies. “Uncomfortable Truth” blazes through funky bass lines via piano, handclap rhythm and a hook that has you before you digest its peaceful revolutionary mantra. “Shining Star” is from her newest record, “Soul is Heavy.” Nneka’s music takes you through a candle-lit, global-village lounge of seductive beats and lilting vocal lines.
World Hip Hop Market connected with the artist during her tour to ask where she sees hip-hop in Africa and how much of an affect the genre has had on her craft.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Are you still based in Lagos?
Nneka: Yes, I’m based in Lagos but I have been touring since the last time I was in America, over two years constantly.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop?
Nneka: I think hip-hop is evolving for good, for bad. Hip-hop as a culture has changed with time and spread around the world into different continents and cultures. There is hip-hop everywhere, in Tanzania, in Nigeria, in the States, and it has manifested in a unique form for every region from Akai samples to MPCs, from turntables to whatever it is right now. From Kurtis Blow to Dbanj and Kanye West. Conscious messages behind melancholic beats, some the opposite but always extreme and on the edge. (I can tell you a whole story.) Fact is, it has diversified itself for every region; stylistically and sound-wise. In Africa [hip hop] has blended with the local sound and traditional music of different ethnic groups; you have rappers who chant in their local tongue.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What would you say is the impact of hip-hop in Africa?
Nneka: I think I have already mentioned this, I think the roots of hip hop are in a fusion of America and Africa, from slavery times to gospel and church music, just that it developed into different forms and styles. And now hip-hop has gone back to where it came from. It’s a cycle or a circle of life, an exodus.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What does hip-hop mean to most Africans you speak to? Is it 50-Cent or Drake? Or do people connect more to homegrown acts? Who are some of your favorite groups from Africa?
Nneka: There was a period where we would all focus on music coming from outside Africa and we all wanted to sound non African, like the Americans, twist our tongue and be like Tupac, make our voices deeper like a DMX and say the N word a thousand times just to prove we were coming from somewhere else. All this has changed, Africa is changing, people are becoming more conscious of our history and our necessity in the existence of mankind in general, proud and confident. We are ready to fight the colonial mentality and inferiority complex we have been raised to believe. So we are preserving our traditions and culture by every means possible. We love to hear ourselves speak our local languages and rap and chant in our dialects. In nightclubs there is no dancing without a local hip hop act blaring through the speakers.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Do you describe yourself as a hip hop artist?
Nneka: I am a mix of hip-hop, afro beat, soul, etc.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Do you feel influenced by hip-hop culture personally?
Nneka: Oh, very much. I think I became even more connected to hip hop by meeting DJ Farhot, my co-producer and friend who educated me about Afro-American hip hop and gave me a crash course in hip-hop history. That’s how I knew Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, De La Soul, etc.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Your video in Lagos is stunning. What was it like filming “My Home?”
Nneka: It was a rush, I had the idea but did not know how to bring it into being. It was tough. In the end we freestyled a lot.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What is the music scene like right now in Lagos?
Nneka: The scene in Lagos is amazing, everywhere is music. On every corner there is a new talent to support, from an Ade Bantu to a Babtunde to a wizkid. So much talent, just that everyone wants to get out of poverty, so you either become a criminal or a musician and I do not blame anyone trying hard not to be involved in crime or miltant activities.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Who would you like to see play in Nigeria?
Nneka: I would love for Mos Def to come and play with me in Nigeria.