A Talk with Nneka
The guest star of Flashmag this month is a singer songwriter and actress. Nneka Egbuna Lucia was born on Christmas Eve 1980 in Warri Nigeria from a German mother and a Nigerian father. At the age of 19, she left Africa to Hamburg University, where she studied anthropology; meanwhile her musical career will take prominence. In the early 2000, she will start working with the hip hop beat maker DJ Farhot, a producer living in Hamburg. Very early she will gain public attention in 2004 while performing as an opening act for dancehall reggae star Sean Paul at Hamburg Stadtpark. A few months later she was prompted to release her first record, an extended play titled The Uncomfortable truth produced by the label Yo Mama recording company. On April 2005 she performed on her first tour with Patrice Bart-Williams playing in Germany Austria and Switzerland.
Her first album will follow the same year in the autumn. The opus titled Victim of truth will be critically acclaimed in Europe. The following years she will confirm her talent and engagement about contemporary issues releasing solid works as No Longer at Ease in 2008, concrete Jungle in 2010, and soul is heavy in 2012 and of course My Fairy Tales released March 2nd 2015. Nneka in the line that follows tells us more about her career, and her person, while giving her opinion on current issues, in an open interview. You will not be deceived by the fairness of her purpose
Flashmag: Hello Nneka it’s a delight for us and of course our readership to have you today as the guest star of the upcoming issue of Flashmag, thanks for taking some few moment of your busy time to answer our questions. Without further ado we will get in the aim of this talk.
Flashmag: You were born in Nigeria in the city of Warri in the Delta state, Warri city is one of the major hubs of petroleum activities and businesses in the southern Nigeria. It is a commercial capital city of Delta State, how the living in Nigeria for the 19 first year of your life has affected the path you had to take later?
Nneka: of course to be born in Nigeria has defined the type of person I’m today also it has given me more insight on who I’m, as person, as a Nigerian as a woman, and also because of the fact that I was born in an area where there is a lot oil exploitation, and this come at the same time with a lot of problem, because of oil production people are getting more pollution and nothing in return at the end of the day, that kind of unfair situation has given me the feeling to write about, because that is what concerns me a as person and as a child who was raised in that area, it left living memories in my mind.
Flashmag: you arrived in Germany at 19 to study anthropology at Hamburg University despite being a good student why did you choose to set your focus on music?
Nneka: First about I did not come to Germany to study, at a certain point I had to flee Nigeria, I didn’t really make up my mind; the political situation wasn’t so great at the time added to the religious violence. Music has always been part of my life I was doing it even before my university studies, It was part of my hobbies, and at certain point I wanted to explore more on that, I wanted to keep it a secret too, but it simply evolved naturally, when I was studying, added to music I had to juggle between 2 or 3 jobs at the same time, and of course the music was also a part time job that was helping me pay my schools bills because I didn’t had any support, I didn’t want to borrow money from the bank or the state either, because when you chose to borrow you will have to pay back all your life. I used music to finance my studies.
Flashmag: at what time in your life you thought music was your vocation and how was the reaction of your close acquaintances and family about this choice of yours?
Nneka: I never made that decision I finished my study first, and I’m still practicing as an anthropologist, archeologist, I’m not just a musician. I do scientific research, I cannot do just music alone.
Flashmag: So music somehow helps you to carry on with other things in your life?
Flashmag: By the time you became somebody noticed in the music scene what was the reaction of your family?
Nneka: My family has never really been part of my higher education, my university life, I was really independent after spending over 3 year in Germany that is when I decided to go back to Nigeria and see my father I was still a student and even after when I finished my studies I still went back home doing the music connected me more to my father and my family better because at a certain point there was a break from being away for almost 4 years, I think this kind of brought us back together. I think he’s also proud of what I have done using music so far, as not just a way to entertain but to raise awareness on some crucial issues. I think you as an African as well, I’m sure you can relate to that.
Flashmag: you started to work in the early 2000 with the hip hop beat maker DJ Farhot, how the hip hop culture as affected the artist you are today?
Nneka: It helped me a lot because when I came to Europe I barely had any knowledge of what was really the hip hop music all I knew was Nas, the Fugees and so for. I didn’t know too many big names so Farhot kind of introduced me to the genre, he in the other hand he did not know much about African music, all he knew, is that African people like reggae music, and I had to tell him _ we don’t do only reggae, in fact reggae come from Jamaica and not everybody smoke weed in Africa, we do have several rhythms in Africa, High life, Afrobeat and so forth, we have so many tribes and folks genre… in fact it was an exchange of culture and very educational at the same; also he’s from Afghanistan and he has that Afghani influence mixed with German influence and me coming from Africa, I guess made the music so colorful.
Flashmag: at your beginning what did you feel while hitting the stage next to renowned artist such as Sean Paul, Bilal, Nas, and Femi Kuti, the Marley brothers or Lenny Kravitz? What lessons, did you learned from these musical encounters?
Nneka: I have learned a lot from these encounters, one has to be humble, regardless of where you go in life humility is very important, and how you carry yourself how you have to communicate with your Band members I also learned a lot about patience, have patience in yourself, patience with the way you play, practicing your skills when your learn to play an instrument. And consciously it helped me to understand the responsibility we have as musician. You know today music is almost bigger than politics. We have a lot of responsibilities because a lot of youths are listening to you as well as elders so you always have to keep that in mind.
Flashmag: you seem to navigate through several style of musical genre, hip hop, RnB, reggae, Pop afrobeat, do you think every genre has different approach to the message you try to convey to your audience? Or it’s just a way touch several type of public?
Nneka: I work freely so if I end up doing more like reggae or afro sounding records that’s how it’s, but obviously some people take it very seriously trying to get more audience, I didn’t really thought to much about it . if it was just to sell music I would not be doing the type of music I’m doing, but that is not me, that is not what pushes me, I rather would like to mix several joints of music and feel good about it.
Flashmag: you sing mostly in Igbo and English, how the languages you use influence your style?
Nneka: Yes of course especially when I’m in Nigeria, when people hear you sing in their languages they feel more connected to you, but I started also singing in Pidgin English, I feel emotionally attached to what I’m doing, passionate about. I think if I can funnel the emotion, I feel while using a certain tongue, and then I would have achieved the goal, which is to touch people hearts. Meanwhile I don’t have a language barrier either because the music itself as a universal language. You don’t need to understand the words to dance to a tune.
Flashmag: since your debut album, Victim of the Truth, and of course the sophomore effort No longer at ease you seem to have engaged the meaning of your art to openly talk about what is wrong with the world, in Africa and in your home country Nigeria. You stated I quote” it’s important for people to recognize the fact that they are also part of the problem,” about you what must be done for Africa and Nigeria to move forward?
Nneka: I think that is exactly what we need to do ask ourselves, what we can bring forward, is spite of waiting for our governments. It’s our individual responsibility. Not just blame. Yes we have a lot of corruption, I was watching an interview of the Nigerian President, an interview done by CNN in 2013 with Christiane Amanpour, frankly speaking this problem of corruption is been there for eons, we cannot really depend on our government alone, we ourselves need to change our mentality there is tribalism there’s segregation, there is nepotism, and now we have this religious crisis because of that tribal infighting, so if we do not see ourselves as one Nigeria, as one Africa there will always be some western entity coming in, to profit from that situation of chaos, so they will feel like since those guys are not getting along with each other we come and temper with the resources, and play chess with our political leaders as pawns. We say in Africa, 5 fingers make a hand, if one is missing is kind of difficult, it works but it’s difficult. So we need that unity within the country, within the continent and from the grassroots not just in surface. We need to be more proud of ourselves, we have a mentality that is sometimes very self-centered egoistic, and at the same time we have a low esteem of ourselves towards non Africans, and these are 2 extremes. There is no healthy equilibrium between these 2 aspects. We need to overcome that; there’s a lot of colonial mentality going on there, that need to be expelled.
Flashmag: what can you say about the actual situation lived by Nigeria and its neighbors like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger do you think that if at last they are coming together to face the same issues it will build a better perspective for the future?
Nneka: I can only hope, but it’s easier said than done. You know lately I was watching the news, and I told myself to try to put some little faith in our government. But like I said you have to do your own part even if it’s not big enough at least you will have the feeling that you have done something, at least you tried. But I hope this struggle bring us together you know…
Flashmag: what do you think should be the attitude of Africans nations, at this moment when the continent is facing a great interest from western and Asian powerhouse?
Nneka: You know I’m kind of old school, I rather do what Thomas Sankara did meaning keep everybody out, (smiles) but that is a very drastic one. Look at Eritrea, I was watching a documentary in that country on BBC, I think that they are doing very well by themselves, they barely allow tourists there, well I don’t know the Chinese are already in Africa that is final and most of the big company in Nigeria are owned by Asians Chinese and Japanese. I’m not a racist nor a prejudice person but I think we have to build up ourselves first before opening to the world we cannot always depend on others peoples we have the capacity we have the resources, we have it. It’s just for us and our leader to put the money in the right segment
Flashmag: you have had some stints with the movie industry composing soundtracks and appearing in some movies how does film as affected your art?
Nneka: I rather do soundtrack in documentary like Sexy Money the documentary I did on prostitutes in Nigeria about women who are sold in the sex traffic I rather do that type of movie than do the type of movie done in Hollywood I’m for the engaged film. Movies that have something to say, and besides I think it’s very challenging to be an actor I’m almost too real to play somebody else
Flashmag: you play guitar and drums, did playing these instruments has given you more confidence in the craft of your songs?
Nneka: Yes definitely I remember when I was not playing, I had people coming to tell me listen you need to play more I’m still on it I’m still not perfect I’m still not where I wanted to be I’m not perfect yet, but of course it gives you more confidence.
Flashmag: your fifth opus is been out since March 2nd; an album titled My Fairy tales, what represent this work for you? What was the main inspiration?
Nneka: Well the main inspiration was the fact that, first about, I tried to detach myself from my comfort zone, I went to France studying a different language French, and in that solitude I meet some producers and I became more open to do music with other people , generally I’m more introverted when I work on my music; that time I wanted to have it more open, so what inspired was to live in another country, I wrote a lot about the African diaspora about the struggle we go through in our daily lives, racism prejudice, I wrote about the feeling of being an African living in a country where you are tolerated but not integrated even those who were born in the west are still not fully integrated in the society, they don’t know where is their place. This are the main topics, and also motherhood I ‘m not a mother yet but that was a major topic as well. I don’t know, for the last few years there’s a lot of irresponsibility, what is going on? We are watching children bring children in this world, so all these questions dawned in my mind when I was meditating, spending time alone…
Flashmag: Talking about Children do you want to have children later?
Nneka: Let’s God answer to that question.
Flashmag: so far the reaction of the public towards your single “the book of Job” is positive even if is true that you had have the habit to come out with good vibes did you expect this reception of your new work?
Nneka: Not at all I was kind of surprised initially I remember I wanted to go over the songs a couple of times and I just couldn’t, I virtually recorded the entire tracks in my laptop. I remember the co-producer saying, Nneka you need to go back to the studio record those songs, and I say to myself I think they are cool the way they are, they sound natural so we had a lot of thinking to do. I couldn’t imagine this entire records was going to go so high, of course I have faith in what I do, but as an independent record, it was the first time I released something independently, it’s a different procedure a different approach I’m very close to people I’m working with the management, the promo team the distributors and so on. You know up to now, I have been on a major record label where you do not have that attachment to people, you don’t really see the amount of stress that is behind the work, it reminded me of my beginning and the support of my fans has been awesome so far.
Flashmag: job is known in the bible as a fearless man who asks God some crucial questions, we have the feeling that in the same vein, you ask some crucial questions to decision maker in this world is it true? Is like you are asking those who have the power to move things to do the right thing…
Nneka: Yes of course you brilliantly put it there, but a t the same time I have my relationship with God. I think job was very strong and I would like to see myself and many of other peoples reacting that way even there is struggle around
Flashmag: Looking back at your career so far if you had to do it again what will you change?
Nneka: Nothing at all
Flashmag: Earlier you were talking about the image of artist stating that they have a responsibility since their profession as gained some prominence over the years and they have to be an example to follow. So I won’t talk just about Africans, but I will talk about black people worldwide. Do you think in general the image black artists are selling around the world regarding black people is fair enough, despite the fact that a lot of people are complaining about the bad image they are projecting in the diaspora?
Nneka: Wouah! that is a big one I think that we could definitely be more responsible… but in fact it depend of the kind of artist you are some people do it just for money and fame because they want to be seen on TV win a Grammy or an Oscar. It depend of what drives you, it’s just like shoes in the market you have different type those which are cheap comfortable, expensive, uncomfortable, and so forth sorry that is the way human being are, and sorry to compare what we are creating to vulgar shoes. It depends of what drives you what makes you do what you do, if you are concerned or not. I think we have to be aware of the act we are posing we are a minority; we need to be concerned regarding our history. Point blank we need to be concerned that is all I have to say. We need to be cautious and conscious
Flashmag: in our side I think it’s fair enough not blame just the artists but I will blame us too, the journalists. Do you think that since we are giving so many spotlights on some type of musicians we are contributing to this problem, helping that type of behavior by exposing it the media do you agree with me that we have our part of liability?
Nneka: Of course I agree with you. You chose what you air, you chose what you write about, you are giving news to the masses you are the intermediary the filter you are the mounting piece of the artist. I will say your responsibility is even bigger. (Smiles)
Flashmag: yes I will say that; because if we don’t show anything they won’t see anything (smiles)
Flashmag: you seem to me a very sensitive artist, does your feelings and personal experiences are tainting your work?
Nneka: Definitely I think so definitely my experience as a person as a Nigerian, as a woman in what I have been through. But I would not make life dependent on what I have been through. I feel not to give the world the same pain, when I feel the pain, I would not like the world to feel the same pain but I will rather transform this pain in something positive that can build up people that’s where the music comes in, it’s a processor.
Flashmag: Despite the talent of African artists the music industry in Africa is still underdeveloped what do you think has to be done to give African artists the place they deserve in the concert of nations?
Is not underdeveloped though…
Flashmag: By underdevelopment I mean, the means they have in the western world to do the business of music… besides there is a discrepancy, between what is done there and here, do you think Africans have to follow the western way or go their own way?
Nneka: No man we need to stay the way we are. They should not be ourselves, we should not be themselves, even though is good to have that blend and exchanges of culture which is brilliant, but when it comes to recording capabilities studio and managing company distribution we used to have all these thing in Africa in the 80s, before the crisis of the nineties. Still, even Universal is in Nigeria I think. And there is still some very good studio back home. I think we need to shed more light on music in Africa acknowledge it, I think up to now is been underestimated, put in the shade and labelled as a work done by people who don’t want to be doctors, engineers and such. Anyways it’s about the mentality too. We will gain to bring the music in the school curriculum this can help our children to become even more creative and inventive in other sectors. I’m not saying all our kids should become musicians but music can inspire them on a different career by opening their mind.
Flashmag: A life without cause is a life without effect what cause do you advocate more while doing charity works?
Nneka: I help them feel better not just by my music I have an NGO called ROPE it’s the major tool we have been able to use to help people around Africa we did some Work in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria. And the major drive should not be for the world to see what I’m doing, but to do it because of love, to do it because it should be done. These moments should be given out of love for people and for God.
Flashmag: Has we are closing this talk do you have a special word towards the public? What is your agenda of the upcoming day?
Nneka: A special word is, do whatever you want, but do it a hundred percent. My father will say _ Nneka if you wash the plates wash them well whether some body is watching or not watching, whether you are in a hurry or whether you are not. Wash it like you are washing it for God (Smiles) we need to do that at our time.
Flashmag: You are touring now?
Nneka: Yes we are touring right now in Europe; we are coming to America in May, we will be there the whole month of May.
Flashmag: we will be happy to see you then. As we are concluding this talk, I’m very happy to have had you today as the guest star of Flashmag; the readership is joining me to say thanks for this open talk.
You are very welcome, I thank you too God Bless.
Interview Realized by Hubert Marlin Elingui Jr