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 had grown up going to primary school of the Delta Steel Company and later to secondary school at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and in Hamburg — the German port city — she was overwhelmed. “For two years I was overwhelmed,” she said. “The way [Europeans] dress, the way they carry themselves, their religion. So many things that are important to me are not important to them.”
To express herself, she started singing professionally, hooking up with hip-hop beatmaker DJ Farhot, singing in clubs, and going on to gain recognition when, in 2005, she was tapped to open for Sean Paul at his Hamburg tour stop.
Though, with a powerful voice, she sings more than she raps, Nneka names hip-hop as her biggest influence, while still citing the influence of social justice musicians from Fela Kuti to Bob Marley to Mos Def. In the press, she’s compared most often to Neneh Cherry and Erykah Badu for lyrics which stress the tragedies wrought by poverty and war and a style which is all about strength.
Her debut 2005 EP, The Uncomfortable Truth gained her a huge following — and she toured Europe’s festivals, playing everywhere from Den Haag’s Park Pop fest in Holland to Holloway Prison in London. The UK’s Sunday Times called it “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 like “Confession” to the retro soul of “Changes.” Then, in ’08, she released No Longer at Ease.
Here she had found her own voice, and the UK’s Independent called it a “seminal work.” Named for a Chinua Achebe book, the album was called, by one reviewer, “One of, if not, the most innovative, artistically consistent and complete albums of our time. No Longer At Ease sums up the Nigerian musical and cultural renaissance.” The lead single from that album, “Heartbeat,” was her first to crack the top 50 in Germany, her adopted homeland. This winter, she’s touring Europe and the US and her highly-anticipated first US release Concrete Jungle is set for February 2, 2010.
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