The New Gong Magazine

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Nneka Comes of Her Own


On a recent evening in Lagos, I bowed to my instincts and followed to
directions on a invitation that landed on my e-mail to a venue where the
musician, Nneka, was billed to perform to a small audience of mostly
professionals winding down after the day's job. Of course, I had read articles
before then online and in local papers touting her as a prodigious talent. I
wasn't taken in by what I had read because in the same way had I read of
many who had been touted in the past, who ended up disappointing as they
turned out mere dilitante or something worse.

Well, not yet deprived of healthy curiosity by past disappointments, I made
my way to the venue.  Scores of the Lagos culture elite, with their air of savoir
faire, milled around the entrance. You could tell by the confident manner they
shook each other's hand and slapped backs that they were congratulating
themselves on being discerning enough to come to this show. For me it
wasn't a reassuring sign because such crowds have been known to acclaim
trash just to give themselves the illusion that they 'belong'.

Things weren't helped when Nneka's show was preceded by a performance
by some very hard working female guitarist, who unfortunately hadn't done
enough work on the instrument to convince it to produce the melodies she
had in mind, or probably had the quitar-skill but had no rime or rhythm to
impart. The consequence was mostly cacophonous and wearying. But
thankfully it didn't last that very long, she was applauded for her effort and
got off the stage for the evenings main event.

Sighting Wura Samba, the percussionist, among the back-up musicians tuning
their instruments, was for me the first sign that something serious was about
to happen. And it was just him, a bass guitarist and a rhythm/lead guitarist.  
Then a slight lady, dressed in a black blouse over green-patterned print skirt,
joined them armed with an acoustic guitar that was also quickly tuned to the
other instruments in the final consultations before the show.

When it came, it was an instant explosion of sounds, electric and
transforming.

In the song 'Death' Nneka switched between rapping and soulful singing,
laced in between with reggae chants as she spoke about everyday problems
created by bad government.

'Hearbeat' came with a frantic reggae pace, a pulsating, thumping rhythm that
suddenly pulled up to let Nneka's stirring voice come to the fore before
picking up speed once more.

'Mind & Heart' harks to Sade Adu's laid-back, easy style, while providing the
singer the space to belt out about ''the man without a hear, without a
shadow.'' Then the song builds into a frenzied climax where Nneka shows the
full range of her, at times searing, vocal powers.

In 'Suffri', 'Halfcast', 'Kangpe', 'Niger Delta', Nnekka, born in Warri to a
Nigerian father and a German mother and a Nigerian father (from Anambra
state), discusses familiar Nigerian issues and problems with diction that
borrows from Nigerian Pidgin English, each time drawing ecstatic applause
from the audience. The influences are varied, but what comes out is truly
Nneka's.

By Achukata Isiugo