The Next Big Thing – NnekaPublished by Nerenda Eid on Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 10:34 am.
In a world fascinated more with style than substance, Nigerian singer/songwriter Nneka stands apart. I had the opportunity to see for myself at an intimate acoustic performance hosted by Suite903 last night at the Cornerstone/Fader offices in New York. Unlike the current crop of female performers, she is more Afro-bohemian than couture glam. She is petite, unassuming and could even be described as delicate, but appearances are deceiving. While she comes across as self-effacing and unashamed about showing her vulnerability, she is dauntlessly political. Her lyrics speak the truth about things that most would rather leave unsaid. Her unapologetic mix of music and politics is reminiscent of famed Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.
Well known in Nigeria and Europe, her new album, Concrete Jungle (Decon/Epic), was released Tuesday marking her debut in the US market. She describes her sound as simple, experiential and honest. Pain is an inspiration, though she’s quick to explain that the cross-genre album also includes upbeat songs of hope and love. Her writing is reflective and getting noticed around the world. Nneka won Best African Act at Britain’s 2009 Music of African Origin (MOBO) Awards, was selected by SPIN as one of their 10 to Watch in 2010, named Rolling Stone’s 2010 Breaking Artist, and as of last night, featured on The Late Show with David Letterman.
She has said that she aims to “Africanize America” with this album, using her music as a means to humanize Africa rather than reinforcing its depiction as a continent of poverty ravaged by war and plagued with AIDS. Her goal is to enlighten people to the fact that despite those very real issues, the people are resilient and able to live full lives with joy. There is talk that she is now included in what’s being called the New African Renaissance, encompassing the Broadway sensation Fela! and the popularity of artists like K’naan. She accepts this distinction as long as it allows her to message to be truly heard.
Nneka’s multi-city Concrete Jungle Tour runs until the middle of February. She will return to the US in March to perform at the 2010 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.