The landscape of contemporary music has been in desperate need of what Nneka is adding to it with her stunning body of work. It is thoughtful music, for a global audience, detailed by one person’s continual journey of self-discovery. A calm sense of urgency is expressed throughout, by insightful, impassioned lyrics delivered seamlessly over instrumentals rooted in traditions of classic rap, afro-beat, reggae and soul. It is music that speaks to the sensibilities of a generation that has been tasked with redefining the outdated discourse forced upon it. A generation that is, to quote the title of her second album, No Longer at Ease.

Born and raised in Warri, Nigeria, and living for a period of time in Hamburg, Germany, Nneka has developed an inspired, narrative style that reflects an understanding of the worldwide impact music can achieve, rarely exhibited in such an accessible manner. When asked about her early influences as an artist from a conceptual standpoint, she explains, “Growing up in an area, where there is a lot of chaos and a lot of corruption, a lot of madness going on, that has been a very big influence in the way I see life, the way I write. The social, political issues that I stress such as the suppression of the Niger Delta, or the exploitation of the people of the Niger Delta and their resources, corruption in general, the relationship between Africa and the western world, all these things have influenced my music.” She continues, “I went to Germany for a couple of years, and there I started getting to know myself better. Getting to know my passion better, deriving pleasure in making music and sharing music with other people, learning how other people also compose their music. I found that I did it with so much love, and I put it before…I even put it before certain people, you know? So when I looked at the importance of music in my life I thought, I can’t do without it anymore. That is when I started doing it more or less for a living; it supported my studies, it supported my life, people around me as well, my family in Nigeria.”
Forget about genre, no matter the iteration Nneka maintains an unwavering message of positivity and responsibility. Whether manifested across dance floor ready beats on “The Uncomfortable Truth,” “Suffri” or “Walking”; reflective acoustic ballads like the heartfelt “Come With Me” and “Africans”; or slow, heavy, almost spoken word, pieces like “Death” and “Halfcast,” her flows embody a dedication to presenting the themes that guide her work and her life’s path. She explains, “Everything that I do I have to throw my heart in, and a lot of passion. If that is not involved, I don’t think I will be able to do what I’m doing…I feel like, despite the fact that everything may have already been said in this world [laughs], I still feel I have to say something. There are so many people out there who do not have the courage to speak their mind, and I could be their voice.”

Nneka’s first album to drop stateside, Concrete Jungle combines standout material from her expansive catalogue of European releases, including her first two albums, Victim of Truth and No Longer at Ease, presenting listeners with a sort of crash course in the music that has earned her a devoted following on the eastern shores of the Atlantic. She talks a bit about the subject matter covered in these works, “Victim of Truth is my first album. It is very shy, introverted and very much of a diary. I had an issue of finding my truth, where I belong, if I practice what I preach, if I am more of a hypocrite, or if I’m really honest with what I’m talking about when it comes to topics that I was stressing. No Longer at Ease was more taken from the perspective of a civilian living in the Niger Delta, that is not at ease with his or her situation despite the fact that they have been hustling for such a long while, nothing is coming back.”

Shattering to the unfortunately accepted perception that a conscious artist has to water down their values to be successful in today’s music industry, Nneka stands firm in her belief that the truth will set the world free, uncompromising in her personal quest to educate, inspire and bring life and love to the foreground of the collective global mind frame. She closes the interview, speaking softly, “This is my life, you know? This is my life and no matter what it takes, I will always represent this. You have to be yourself; you have to live your life. You have to contribute by being yourself in life.”

– Omar Almufti

Photography by Jason Goldwatch