‘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. Having said that, many of us are yet to personally acknowledge, and answer the question whether a musical agenda should be justified only by pleasing melodies, or rather it should equally account for messages conveyed…
‘Big mouth’, big voice, and a big guitar firmly attached to a small body frame are possibly 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. 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 (in Warri) had in motivating her to embrace adult life disciplines. Within the musician’s lyrics one can identify pieces of her life in Nigeria contrasted with her time spent in Western Europe. While the name ‘Nneka’ means ‘her mother is renowned’ the musician seems understandably keener to discuss her music rather than her relationship with the one who carried her. After a long separation from her mum, as a young woman Nneka was reunited with her in Germany only to be sent back to Nigeriaonly three months later. She confesses not to hold grudges though, and adds: “Forgiveness and love is key…”
Asked about the most current projects (at the time), 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, and embrace the hype as the absolute truth 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 a ‘boy from the hood’ (tomboy); or a ‘vagabond in power’ as she often refers to herself and to those with her. 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" – Nneka Egbuna"" 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 about this young woman getting drunk, drugged, one-night-stood, nor semi naked on pages of tabloids and magazine. 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.”
Yet, I wanted to know first-hand whether Nneka still confesses a Christian faith. In spite of all the ‘proof’ I was not convinced. Open about her faith Nneka gave me a ‘safe’ (this time), but 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 some knowledge from her Bible and does show a good understanding of many of life’s principles. Having said that, the above statement clearly proves Nneka’s belief system is miles away 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, precisely) with an agenda to make Himself at home inside of everyone who believes 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…
Upon reflection, Nneka’s mind seems divided between two camps – unconscious at times… She fervently preaches ‘no sex’ before marriage, gives motivating speeches for women to stand up and be counted. She fearlessly comes against ‘Kangpe’ (in a song by the title) criticizing his wicked ways covered up with biblical quotes, and high church attendance. On the other hand though, the singer idolizes Fela Kuti and consistently affirms him as one of her main inspirations – as if oblivious to all the corrupt influences his overall contribution brought into the world. By this zealous, public association with Fela’s mindset Nneka seems to suggest to the public 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 becoming momentarily intoxicated with the singer’s anxious energy a while ago. Consequently, short, yet very intense ‘love and hate’ relationship with her music followed. I’d buy her cd, listen to it intensely, get totally frustrated, and break the cd. Subsequently, I’d buy two more and hide them somewhere in the house… Yes, I know – issues on my side… It was probably an addiction to reason that caused me to pursue Nneka’s music so eagerly. It (the music) created a great environment to think (loads). My trouble was though – after an intense questioning session my soul would finally figure that it needed more than reason, law and politics.
Currently, taking smaller portions of “Nneka”, remaining guarded and selective about what to embrace are some of those ways that help me 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… Meanwhile, parts of Nigeria’s 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 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 bold reply from this bold, young woman, ‘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 principles like the last one mentioned makes it easy to understand why Egbuna flies high above average musically.
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