Nigerian singer Nneka recently performed in Chicago. Born in Warri, Nigeria, she moved to Germany at age 18. After working with DJ Farhot in Hamburg, Nneka slowly grew to public notice as an opening act for Sean Paul, Nas and Lenny Kravitz.
Her style has been described as Lauryn Hill mixed with Erykah Badu. Although she recites and sings in both English and the Nigerian language of Igbo, at the show the crowd chanted right along with herno matter what language. Her latest album, Soul Is Heavy, continues her journey in politics and hip-hop with a mix of sounds from reggae to pop music.
We spoke the day of her live show at the Double Door, where she spread the message that we are all connected.
Windy City Times: Good morning, Nneka.
Nneka: I am so tired. We arrived in Chicago at 2 a.m.
WCT: I'm sure there is a time change. Do you live in Nigeria?
Nneka: Yes; I moved to Nigeria from Germany five years ago but I do go back and forth.
WCT: How many languages do you speak?
Nneka: I speak English, a little bit of French, Igbo and German, so four languages. In Nigeria, English is the major language. It is supposed to be Oxford English but we kind of abandoned it.
WCT: Last time I saw you was at Lollapalooza and the afterparty with Perez Hilton.
Nneka: Oh, yesat the Hard Rock CafĂ©. Lady Gaga was there, too.
WCT: Yes, that was the gayest Lollapalooza we have had. I noticed you played at Lilith Fair in the past, which is mainly a women's event. You must have many lesbian fans now.
Nneka: Oh, good. I have so many! It is true and it is all good.
WCT: Your big single "Heartbeat" I cannot get enough of.
Nneka: Thank you.
WCT: The new record is called Soul Is Heavy but it seems lighter in some respects.
Nneka: I was inspired from a dark place in my personal life. I was questioning a lot, including myself. I moved up to Nigeria in between. I needed to tackle the situation in Nigeria and cope with it. There were things happening around me, kidnappings, it all inspired me to sit down and write this album.
Songs such as "J" and "Restless" seem calm but they were created when I was in a dark state of mind. They were written in Lagos with DJ Farhot, who I work with most of the time. He came down to Nigeria for the first time to complement the whole vibe on the record. People may say the record does not sound indigenous as it was recorded in Africa but that is the funny thing about it. The album doesn't sound typical Nigerian. It is a blend of everything.
I needed to let the record out the way it is. I had some problems with the record company putting it out but I had toured with one record for three and a half years and I had to get it out, even if it was a premature birth. I was pregnant and needed to let it go after nine months! [ Laughs ]
WCT: It was time, then.
Nneka: Yes. I am already inspired by traveling around to write new songs on the road. It will be a totally different sound of what you know on Soul Is Heavy.
WCT: Tonight at the show it will be covering your albums, Concrete Jungle and Soul Is Heavy.
Nneka: And some little remixes…
WCT: Fun! Is the song "J" inspired by a specific person?
Nneka: How do I put it? The name itself is a person's name, but the content of the song appeals to many people. When people confront you with hatred, then you need to be able to convert that energy into something good for yourself. It needs to be the opposite of what you have been given. I was in Nigeria when I wrote it and there is a lot happening in the streets of Lagos. You can be stuck in traffic for five hours. It is a colorful, crazy, chaotic place. Speaking negative about people although coming from a negative place is not going to change my future. I want to live a good life with no complaining.
WCT: So there is some positivity.
WCT: You have a song with Ms. Dynamite called "Sleep."
Nneka: She is amazing. I have been following her career for a while now.
WCT: She is finally putting out new music.
Nneka: She does quite well in England.
WCT: How was touring with Lenny Kravitz?
Nneka: He was amazing. He is a humble person. Usually smaller artists like me go on tour with someone like him to broaden your horizons. He blew me away. It made me think about the way to create music. I learned to use my heart onstage by watching him. He came to say thank you to me instead of the other way around!
Discover why the whole world is thanking Nneka these days with her music and performances at www.nnekaworld.com .