Live Music + Gig Reviews

Nneka @ ICA, London

21 September 2007

Nneka sang as part of Afro-Pop Live, which is helping to bring about a renaissance of African popular music with a concoction of sounds and rhythms from Afrobeat to Funk. And we are privileged that they have brought music such as Nneka’s to our ears.

Although she has many influences such as Fela Kuti, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Mobb Deep and Lauryn Hill, Nneka has her own distinct identity. She has a beautiful smoky quality her voice, and her debut EP, Victim of Truth, is packed with expressive rhythms and diverse sounds of reggae, hip hop, rap and jazz.

She has supported the artists such as Femi Kuti, Seeed, Sean Paul and Gnarls Barkley and, although she has been singing professionally for five years, there is a rawness about her performance that is both refreshing and inspirational. Onstage, Nneka does not present herself as a performer, and she doesn’t need to; her songs are strong and stand up on their own.

Sitting alongside accompanying guitarist, Mo, Nneka has a quiet, unassuming spirit but an undeniably self-assured stage presence. Wearing a woollen hat that covers a mane of curly hair, she is casual, in combats, guitar on lap and reading glasses for the sheet music. She is also charmingly humble, admitting that she is just beginning to learn the guitar. This only became apparent when, after the first few songs, she took her glasses off, put her guitar down, stood up behind the microphone and simply sang – this was the point where she came alive and the whole space took on a different, more intense energy.

Not only is Nneka a mesmerizing singer, but she is also a lyricist. Her songs are loaded with lyrics that are fluid, moral with often biblical messages and references. Here is an artist with something to say and, unlike most modern rap artists, its worth listening to.

Her song Africans is unmistakably influenced by the music of Bob Marley and Nneka also sings about materialism, suffering, politics and religion. The Uncomfortable Truth is the album’s lead track, and bound to be a hit, with its uplifting and catchy chorus.

The strength of Nneka’s work is that she does not fit into any one category, but many, and she will no doubt be a success with a broad spectrum of people.

Victim of Truth can be described as a spiritual, eclectic and reflective album. Although Nneka is more or less new to the British audience, she demands to be listened to, and this is just the beginning.

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Nneka @ ICA, London