Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Interview with Nneka: “I do it in a sweet way, but I sing to speak the truth”

Recently, I had the chance to interview Nneka. The crooner came on the scene in 2005 with her release of Victim of Truth, and has soared to higher heights ever since. Her most recent work? The release of her album ‘Concrete Jungle’ in the US earlier this year, and her amazing tour with Damien Marley and Nas. So what’s next for the singer from Warri? I caught up with her to find out about her next move, her current work, any charities she’s involved with, and of course, how she stays in shape.

Suzanne: Tell us a bit about your story and how you got into music. Who is your biggest inspiration?
Nneka: Well, I was born and raised in Nigeria. Living in Nigeria and seeing different things happening around me, both positive and negative, has made me the person that I’ve become today. I stepped out of Nigeria for a while around 1999/2000 to study in Germany. It was my first time being away from Nigeria, and it was initially difficult adapting to living in a different country. I was trying to cope with a different mentality and a different culture, and that pushed me to get to know myself better, and understand my passions. In all that self-discovery, I figured out that I had a passion for music. Music is something that I always felt connected to, but I discovered the difference between a mere connection and an identity. I found my identity, I found myself while I was out in a different world. And I started becoming more alert towards my history, my culture, my origins. And that had a big impact on how I wrote my music.

Suzanne: Was there a moment when you realized that this was what you were supposed to do?
Nneka: No, that moment never came. When people say things like that, it makes it seem like music is a job. I don’t consider music as just a profession. Of course it pays the bills, and gives me the ability to support my family and allow my band to have a life and support their own families as well, but I still do not consider it my profession. I studied biology and anthropology and had a passion for that, but that was in a professional way. With music, it’s kind of a bizarre feeling. I’m just doing exactly what I love.

Suzanne: From Lagos to Hamburg to New York, you are doing big things all across the globe. Where do you plan to hit next?
Nneka: We are doing a couple of things here in Nigeria, which is for now the major focus. We’re trying to push the message across in this country because this country needs a lot of love and a lot of focus. And you cannot really do it from outside. You have to be in the system, in the grass roots, to spread your message. We just did a free show in Computer Village; it was a free show, free CDs and everything. We will be doing about three more free shows around Lagos: Ikeja, Mushin, Ajegunle. It will be completely free. Free concerts, free CDs, just to show the people some love. That’s where I’m at right now.

Suzanne: So you just finished the Distant Relatives tour with Nas and Damien Marley, and earlier, you released Concrete Jungle, your first release in the US. What else do you have in store for your music right now?
Nneka: We should be releasing a new album soon. I am recording an album here right now. It’s the fourth album. My management and recording team are coming to Nigeria for the first time to work with me on this album. So this album is definitely going to be pure madness. There’s always some madness on my albums, but definitely some sanity within the madness. I have a couple of collaborations planned, but those will be a surprise.

Suzanne: We know Nigerians have been open to your music, but what has the reception been to your music on the international front?
Nneka: The Europeans have been very supportive right from the beginning. Without my start in Germany, I wouldn’t be who I am today. First of all, because I am so Nigerian, sometimes people forget that my mother is white and that mix can make people a little confused in the identity department. But releasing my music in Germany, I didn’t have a problem figuring out my identity. They did not try changing who I was.

Even in America, the fans and the record company Sony Epic were very receptive. We did have some differences because the American record companies have a different dynamic with their artists than in Europe. They require more control of the album and they like a little more commercialization of the music that is produced. But the fans, especially the African Americans, have been very supportive towards my music. So it’s definitely been very positive.

However, sometimes, black non-Africans do ask me why I’m so pro-Africa. They say there is also hardship outside Africa and I should consider that as well. I just answer and say that my music is not meant to segregate anyone. I’m simply writing what I know, from my own experiences and the experiences of people around me. I am in a very good position to judge both sides of the wall, both black and white, and so I write what I see. So definitely, when I say things like the white man needs to step down and stop taking advantage of our resources in Africa, I’m doing it very objectively. But I find that I always have to explain myself. That’s why now, before I perform, I always explain my songs, my position, and my way of thinking.

Suzanne: One of my biggest passions is health, fitness and true beauty for the young African. Can you tell you tell me what true African beauty means to you?
Nneka: True African beauty is about appreciating yourself and being proud of your color. That is very important. The other day, they just opened a beauty studio near my house with the sign “Lighten up your skin in 7 days”. I was like what the hell is wrong with these people? And when I spoke to the lady in the shop, she said, “Well, look at your beautiful skin. We want to be like you.” I looked at the lady and it was obvious she had bleached. Her elbows were much much darker than the rest of her body, and it was just so sad. It’s not very attractive to want to try to be like someone else. Another example is the weave-on plague in Lagos. There is nothing wrong with a little attachment, but when we are doing it and losing ourselves to become so much like someone or something else, it is a different extreme. We should let our true selves breathe once in a while. So it’s all about respecting yourself, seeing yourself, loving yourself the way you are, and taking care of yourself.

Suzanne: On that note, how do you take care of yourself?
Nneka: I eat right when I can. I try to eat a lot of fruits. I also jog regularly, and swim a lot. I try not to overdo the jogging, but I definitely swim a lot. I love to sweat it out. Sometimes, it’s good to sweat. It certainly does make you feel better. As for my skin, I just try not to use too many products on my skin at once. Because sometimes, in trying to prevent, you create more problems for yourself.

Suzanne: When you’re not working, how do you relieve stress?
Nneka: When I’m not working, I paint and work out. I don’t really go out to parties and I’m not too into the social scene, but I try to hang amongst every day people and just listen to what they are going through day in and day out. Hanging out in the real world really.

Suzanne: Are you involved in any charity initiatives in Nigeria?
Nneka: I have a small foundation called Rope. We’re still really small, and we’re not an NGO, we’re just a foundation. We are trying to raise awareness about certain issues. Some of the programs we are currently organizing are programs like workshops with kids in the slums of Nigeria. We have done Ajegunle and we are doing Warri over the next couple of weeks. The aim is to create change through creativity. For now, we are having workshops where we discuss the personal experiences of these children. One topic we just talked about was corporal punishment and the way it is presented to these kids in the slums. We want to empower them to give their own opinions and discuss their own experiences through writing, poetry, art, and music. So it’s kind of like therapy. At the end of the workshop, we do an exhibition of all the children have created and invite the press to give these kids a voice the right way. The next topic in Warri is oil, and we’ll do the same thing with the kids that we did in Lagos.

Suzanne: We all know you as the talented musician who shares what's in your heart. And fortunately, what's in your heart is a passion for Nigeria and Africa as a whole. So many young Africans are coming up today trying to find their voice. What advice would you give them?
Nneka: Finding your voice is important, but do it without stepping on someone else’s dignity. That’s the first thing I would say. Secondly, as you’re finding that balance, remember that you also have parents, a culture and morals that may actually be right. So listen to them sometimes, don’t lose everything in trying to find yourself. We are part of something, and although we are a curious generation, we need to remember where we came from. So I guess in summary, there’s no need to overdo your freedom. There’s always a limit and maturity should help you see that limit.

Suzanne: Is there any other initiative that you’d like to promote?
Nneka: One thing I’d like to promote is, especially for Nigerians in Nigeria. Go check it out, raise your voice, and register to vote before the end of October.

Suzanne: Lastly, in an effort to try to promote a true perspective of health among Nigerians, let me ask this. When you hear the words 'Healthy and Happy', what does that mean to you?
Nneka: Healthy means having a relationship with God. Happy seems like too much of an extreme to me. I would rather say balance. Balance is that middle between happiness and sadness that works for me.

There you have it. A little insight into Nneka’s world. For more details about upcoming tours, releases, and performances, visit I must say, I’m enjoying the interviews I’ve been doing lately because everyone seems so charged up and positive about Nigeria, and everyone’s doing something to help in a small way. Thoughts anyone?

Photo credit: and


  1. Yeah I feel her...I need to start swimming too.

  2. I like the fact that Nigerians are now willing to change Nigeria. It also seems (emphasis on SEEMS) that the willingness to change is coming more from Nigerians abroad or that have lived abroad than those within. In any case, I am loving Nneka and her passion.
    I say YES to swimming.

    Well done Eights and Weights!

  3. This is a great interview! You ask really insightful questions and she has some great answers! Well done!!

  4. Great interview!!!!!

    Loved it, and didnt want it to end


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