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Nneka: 'I don't need awards. I know my album is good'

AFRICAN AMBASSADOR: Nneka [PHOTO: Hughes Lawson-Body]

WHAT DO you do when your record label’s not quite ready to release your new album? You release it on your own label. Well, you do if you’re Nneka.

The celebrated songstress is gearing up for the release of her latest musical offering, My Fairy Tales. But as she explains, it’s less of an album and more of a “project”.

“It’s called My Fairy Tales and it’s an independent project that I’m releasing on my record label,” the Nigerian singer/songwriter/musician confirms. “It has only nine songs on it, so I describe it as a project as opposed to a whole album.

“Musically it’s different because I wanted to create a sound that would appeal to Africans in the diaspora and also back home. So there are reggae influences as well as Afrobeats and hi-life. Lyrically, it’s conscious, it’s empowering and it’s motivating; discussing political issues, as well as issues that affect us on a day-to-day basis.”

A MOBO Award-winner, perhaps best known for her top 20 hit Heartbeat (which was sampled by UK songstress Rita Ora for her single R.I.P), Nneka somehow manages to be a global success without necessarily being a household name.

She has four albums under her belt (My Fairy Tales will be her fifth studio album) and boasts a loyal fanbase, made up of music-lovers throughout the world – yet she’s an artist that you’ll only know if you’re in the know.

Never one to chase fame, Nneka is just fine with that.

“I know that I have people who have my back,” she says. “I have fans; people who have supported me from day one. And I’m not the type of woman who does things because I need to be seen. I don’t need to be in the limelight in order to know who I am.”

Nneka’s self-assurance is wonderfully inspiring. While many artists talk a good game with no means to back their chat, the talented singer and guitarist is in the fortunate position of being able to release her “project” through her own record label.

“It’s been a few years since I released my last album (2012’s Soul Is Heavy). The record company wasn’t necessarily ready to release a full album because of timing, so I decided to release this project myself.

“Also, I know that this isn’t a very commercial project. I don’t have a pop song on this album or a track that would be considered radio-friendly. But it was like a child; I just wanted to get it out!
“This is a project that I believe can help a lot of people, especially with what is happening in Nigeria right now,” says the musician, who was born to a Nigerian father and a white German mother. “I think many Africans both at home and in the diaspora can identify with what I’m talking about on this album, and I know many women can relate to it too. It’s just like writing a book or painting a picture and knowing that people will appreciate it, regardless of how well it does commercially.

“I’m very happy as this is the first time I’ve been able to release an album by myself, which isn’t something every artist can do. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve done this by myself and I know this album is good. I mean, it’s nice to have acknowledgement, but I know for myself that the albums is good,” she laughs. “I don’t need any awards to confirm that for me. Also, it’s an introduction to the next record that is coming out later this year.”

Reflecting on the Western perception of Nigeria – particularly in light of the actions of terrorist movement Boko Haram – she says: “Everything with Boko Haram is making [Western perceptions of Nigeria] worse. But being in Nigeria and seeing what I call the undercurrent happen, there are many Nigerians who are very optimistic, regardless of what is happening and what the media is portraying.

“There are many Nigerians who are concerned and who are part of the change that they want to see. We can’t just blame our political leaders. We ourselves have to be involved to make that change happen and the only way we can do that is by being less self-centred; dropping the egos and doing what we need to do. Create non-government organisations, educate your fellow-neighbour, help an orphaned child – there are many ways we can do things on a grassroots level.”

Known for her conscious lyrics and her desire to empower people through music, it’s perhaps no surprise that Nneka has been compared to the likes of fellow soulful singers Erykah Badu and Neneh Cherry. The fact that she has an afro has also, unsurprisingly, stoked such comparisons.

“It would be great if others compared themselves to me,” she laughs. “No, people always make those type of comparisons; because you have an afro or you look Bohemian or you have an African scarf on your head, then you automatically look like Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu, you know? They’re stereotypes, but I think the world needs those type of comparisons in order to know where you’re coming from. So those comparisons…I’m not mad at them.”

Ask the singer where she sees herself in the next five years and she says: “I’d love to be touring, inspiring people, learning more instruments… I’d just like to be alive doing music!”

My Fairy Tales is out on March 22 on Bushqueen Music

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