Born in Warri, Nigeria to a Nigerian father and a German mother, Nneka moved to Hamburg, Germany at the age of 19 to study anthropology. She started singing professionally, teamed up with hip-hop beatmaker DJ Farhot, performing club gigs. Though she sings more than she raps, Nneka names hip-hop and the work of social justice musicians Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and Mos Def as her biggest influences. She’s often compared to Neneh Cherry and Erykah Badu for lyrics that stress the tragedies wrought by poverty and war.
The UK’s Sunday Times called her debut 2005 EP The Uncomfortable Truth “the year’s most criminally overlooked album,” comparing it to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her 2006 follow-up, Victim Of Truth, ranged further in style — from deep, soulful ballads to the retro soul. In 2008, she released No Longer at Ease and the UK’s Independent called it a “seminal work.” Its lead single “Heartbeat,” was her first to crack the top 50 in Germany.
No two songs are alike on Nneka’s latest work, the 2011 LP Soul Is Heavy. The political and personal are knit from the same elegiac quilt, and the production is varied, nuanced, and intrepid. Nneka plucks from soul, reggae, hip hop, rock ‘n roll, and a smidgen of Latin folk, but she isn’t constrained by the textbooks. It’s rare that she maintains a singular theme or beat strain in a song, leaving each of them to breathe and climax at its own pace.