‘Who’s that girl – NNEKA EGBUNA?’

Music remains a vital part of the human experience. It is a powerful vehicle, which helps to drive both positive and negative changes. Still, many of us are yet to decide whether a musical agenda should be justified by pleasing melodies only, or rather it should be expected to account for messages conveyed, at the same time…

‘Big mouth’, big voice, and a big guitar firmly attached to a small body frame are possibly three of the main musical attributes of a singer/songwriter – Nneka Egbuna. Yet, there is more to her… Often described as a conscious artist, Miss Egbuna seems very serious about her responsibility for the message as well as for the music… Within the musician’s lyrics one can identify pieces of her life in Nigeria contrasted with her time spent in Western Europe. Not into small talk, she stresses issues like capitalism, poverty and war, coated in moral and biblical references.

While preparing to write this article, in a hope of getting to know the singer better I asked her to answer some of my questions. She kindly agreed…

Her story began in Warri (the Delta region of Nigeria). She was born to a Nigerian father, and a German mother; and often refers to the influence her tough upbringing had, motivating her to embrace adult life disciplines. One of the translations of ‘Nneka’ is ‘her mother is renowned’; although the musician seems understandably keener to discuss her music rather than her relationship with the one who carried her. After an early separation from the mum, as a young woman Nneka was reunited with her in Germany to be then sent back to Nigeria only three months later. She confesses not to hold grudges, and adds: “Forgiveness and love is key…”

Asked about the most current projects (at the time of the interview), the singer shared, ‘Well, I think in the first place I just want to get back to me, be real, authentic, not switch the world on, but off… listen to God within me… and not believe the hype …Spreading the word and love is my major focus for now…, as well as working on my spiritual growth…” Insightful thought that is, especially at a time when many artists her age and at her level of recognition do not bother to take time out thinking they can never fall.

As her sound Nneka’s fashion sense is eclectic. She looks approachable, a little like a girl from the hood, sometimes like a ‘boy from the hood’ (tomboy). Yet, while this lady seems rather relaxed about her ‘shell’, she does make some effort. Asked about the disciplines embraced in order to look fit, and radiant with little or no make-up, she answers, ‘I do sports, swim when there is a pool, jog and do my exercises… Dancing helps too… I try to eat well…, avoid oily stuff… – sometimes, not always… I drink lots of water… and sleep.’ Asked about her afro, she says, ‘…My hair..??? I just leave it. Sometimes I think it could look better… Indian hemp, cocoa oil… palm kernel oil…all of the above…, but it just sometimes does not seat…’

Although naturally pretty; she is probably more hard-working than glamorous. “I Cleaned Toilets until I Released My Second Album…” is the musician’s statement chosen for a title of one of the many articles written about her. She writes, composes, works with her band and tours the world with her music. Signed to Sony Records for the past 6 years; she says, “I try to promote my music by myself though…, especially in Africa where I am my own agent, label and manager…”

In spite of significant popularity, media does not report of this young woman getting drunk, drugged, one-night-stood, nor semi naked on magazines’ pages. Asked how she avoids some of the more obvious dangers of popularity she says, “I pray… I hold myself down, and have conversations with those I treasure and love.” Then continues, “… you need to be humble in order to handle the fame.”

Her view of the world and of the current state of affairs truly is extra-ordinary – indicating a solid faith base. ‘’We went to St Peter’s Anglican Church. Then, I also founded the Christian Union in school at that time. I was strictly born again’ – Nneka spoke of her past in an interview. Some refer to her as a Christian role model – describing Nneka in such words as these, “she is not a confessional artist, but she wears her fears on her sleeve, as well as her remedies, which include conscious politics of the Fela variety along with unabashed Christian faith.”

I wanted to know (first-hand) whether Nneka still confesses Christian faith. In spite of all the ‘proof’ I was not convinced. I appreciate Nneka’s openness about it and her clarifying answer: ‘I believe in God, in a higher power, in Olodumare, Chineke, Oghene… I believe in God in us, divinity within us and not outside of us – in Love within us regardless of our flaws… God is above all things and love covers all things…, hence I believe in Love.’ Miss Egbuna undoubtedly has taken much knowledge from her Bible and does show a good understanding of many life’s principles. Yet, the above statement proves Nneka’s current belief system to be far… from Christianity. Yes, the faith commends following God’s laws, attending church, studying the Bible and being led by Love; yet it is very clear about the fact that all of the above mean nothing without being cleansed and justified by the sacrifice of the Son of Man. The Bible makes it clear that He came from the outside (Heaven) with an agenda to make Himself at home within all those who believe in His Name. The Message speaks about God’s Love, but also about His Judgment teaching one how to embrace the first and avoid the latter…

In my opinion, Nneka’s mind seems divided between two camps… She fervently preaches ‘no sex’ before marriage; gives motivating speeches for women to stand up and be counted; and fearlessly comes against ‘Kangpe’ (in a song by that title) criticizing his wicked ways covered up with biblical quotes, and high church attendance. On the other hand though, she idolizes Fela Kuti consistently affirming him as one of her main inspirations – as if oblivious to all the corrupt influences some of his contributions brought into the world. By this zealous, public association with Fela’s mindset Nneka seems to suggest that musical genius paired with a relatively fair political agenda justifies an occultist lifestyle promoting the use of enormous amounts of Indian hemp (no, not as a hair treatment), the creation of an open ‘free love sex commune’ with 27 wives and so on…

I admit to having become momentarily intoxicated with the singer’s energy. At a point in time, I found myself within a short, yet very intense ‘love and hate’ relationship with her music. Issues with balancing on my side… I know. Currently, I still appreciate Nneka, while taking smaller portions and remaining on guard (selective) about what to embrace help me to enjoy inspiring, motivating and funny qualities of her music and personality.

Nneka’s sound captures attention. Courage in exposing her own weaknesses is surely one of those qualities I appreciate most about Egbuna’s character. Having embraced the ‘unpopular’ responsibility to call others to acknowledge and deal with their own mistakes, failures, and sins – Nneka does not seem overly concerned with pleasing the crowds. Regardless, the crowds seem quite pleased… Although yet again, fractions of the establishment seem much less impressed. This ‘girl’s’ voice exposes stains infuriating those who prefer to cover up with additional clothing rather than do the washing…

Nneka’s musicianship is the main reason why people all over the world recognize her person. Yet, I was curious to know what she thinks she’d be doing if there was no music in her life – where she’d be looking for a safe haven instead… Unsurprisingly, I received yet another solid reply, ‘Still in God… and believe me… – I would always invest the same passion into whatever I am doing… It would be a 100 per cent… never slacking.” I believe… ‘100 per cent… never slacking’ indicates a complete perfection unattainable to a human being… Having said that, once the mind’s set in the right direction it is a goal worth pursuing, and the fact hers (the mind) embraces thoughts like the one above makes it easy to understand why she flies high above average – musically…

For more writings please visit:  www.facebook.com/monikaribeiro.writer

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Monika Ribeiro (writer/poet)

I write because I have to & love to… Writing helps me organize thoughts, understand life & address vital matters in a constructive way. I hope this blog satisfies your intellect & your soul at the same. Be inspired...

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