Music · Reviews


By Akumbu Uche

Singer/Songwriter Nneka

MOBO award-winning Nigerian singer/song writer Nneka likes to describe her music as “simple, complicated and dynamic”.  Her third studio album, Soul is Heavy (2011) certainly lives up to that account.

Laden with themes of heartbreak, political agitation, spirituality and self-awareness, the album is a continuation of the singer’s obsession with Nigeria’s fate, history and future.

Despite the title and serious inclination, the songs in Soul Is Heavy are not the pounding, warrior-cries that made Heartbeat, from the 2008 album No Longer At Ease, a breakthrough performance.

Instead, you have an hour-long expertly produced melange of reggae, afrobeat, hiphop and even flamenco accentuating the singer’s seemingly fragile vibrato.

Do You Love Me Now, an intimate, introspective four-minute duet with her throbbing guitar, reminds the listener that Nneka’s acoustics can stand without the support of sound engineering.

She is often compared to Lauryn Hill, partly due to her girl-with-the-guitar image, but she has more in common with Nelly Furtado. Both have pale skin, high cheekbones, naturally curly hair, high pitch and heterogeneous appeal.

The similarities do not just end there. Like Furtado, Nneka can pull off edgy rhymes as well as a tune.

In Camouflage, she launches into combat mode with lines such as “The thing wey you dey plan, e dey destined to fail/you know say our battle na spiritual one”. Just when you expect to hear explosive sounds of warfare, the songbird returns to her trademark canary sweetness.

Her confident rapping provides a backbone for the tracks Sleep, Don’t Even Think, Stay and God Knows Why.

Unfortunately, a guest appearance from Black Thought, of The Roots fame, cannot save the latter from awkwardness and want of pace.

Although her choice of subject matter often means that her music is the least likely to be associated with the nightclub and party circuit, some of the songs such as My Home are cheerily up tempo and danceable. She even shows off a relaxed and romantic side with the tracks Shining Star, Restless, and Valley.

Her pièce de resistance comes in the title track, in which she powerfully invokes the revolutionary spirits of Ken Saro Wiwa, Isaac Boro and King Jaja of Opobo.

It comes as no surprise then that the current face of Reebok France is in solidarity with the Occupy Nigeria Movement. The refrain “Vagabond in Power” from the song V.I.P might as well be adopted as a rallying cry.

DEMONSTRATION; 40,000 today in Ojota [in Lagos], yes we are making history…first time in my life time that Nigerians of different tribes come together in pain to fight the corrupt system….the struggle continues…fight till we kpeme

So reads her January 11 Facebook update accompanied by photographs of a massive crowd and herself, right hand clenched in a manner evocative of a Black Power fist.

Whether or not the 15-track compilation will attract a cult like following, it is a vibrant and intricate yet humble lyrical demonstration that the protester can be passionate but the act peaceful.