Once it was confirmed that I would be interviewing Nneka for Sound Citizen, I started my research. I watched previous interviews, listened to her music and plowed through Wikipedia for information on her homeland of Nigeria. When I was done, I felt like I just crammed for a political science final exam.
Nneka was shaping up to be a political, emotional tornado, expressing herself with a powerful mix of reggae, hip-hop, soul and rock. She is petite but her voice and presence is anything but small. Born in Nigeria, the half-German singer grew up in a musical incubator and among turmoil, exploitation and a people accustomed to expressing themselves in any way they can. I was feeling very much out of my element.
But Nneka immediately disarmed me as she walked through the hotel lobby in Chicago, looking directly into my eyes, then down while playfully lifting her gray fedora and saying, “Good day to you, sir” in one of the most delightful accents I’ve ever heard. Suddenly, I felt silly with my list of politically-charged questions.
We walked up the stairs to the second-floor lobby along with Nneka’s tour manager and Gary, her six-and-a-half-foot tall drummer. After finding a corner of the hotel restaurant with the lowest level of ambient music, we sat down and I started asking questions.
It turns out that Nneka is indeed politically and emotionally driven. But that’s not to be confused with being “emotional.” She is thoughtful, intelligent and focused even if, at times, she appears lost in her own thoughts. It’s not because she doesn’t know what to say but because she’s trying to figure out the best, most meaningful way to say it — just like she does in her music.
I would like to thank Nneka for this tremendous opportunity. And Gary, too — our impromptu camera man for the day.
The clip below has some volume issues, so crank it up and wear headphones if you have them. It was a challenging environment, acoustically, and I need new equipment.
Below the interview is some footage from a live performance of “The Uncomfortable Truth” from a performance in Philadelphia. Hear more of Nneka’s music.