Ever since I first heard “Kangpe” on FIFA 10, I have been extremely interested in the eclectic sound of the music Nigerian artist Nneka creates. She is, in my opinion, one of the best and strongest voices on the African continent in the new millennium, offering a fresh perspective on pertinent, everyday-life issues through her socially aware and politically charged – and often highly emotional – music. In March, she released her fifth studio album “My Fairy Tales” which is perhaps her most personal offering and is also her first independent release through her own record label BushQueen Music.
Exploring intimate subject matters such as love, the current state of humanity and the injustices that destabilize our societies, this body of work is just over 35 minutes, making it EP length. “My Fairy Tales” presents a clean and exciting reggae sound throughout the nine tracks with blends of highlife music which flow through her incorporation of various African music genres, drum loops and samples. It is also a slight departure from her previous hip-hop-led sounds, a genre the artist greatly identifies with.
However, Nneka still manages to maintain the raw essence of the music we’ve come to associate her with as she still produces moments of brilliance across the entirety of the album.
The standout track, “My Love, My Love”, is a classic lover’s rock song. She narrates a metaphysical higher love over mellow base guitar chords and dancing drums. The rest of the songs are grittier and deal with highly relatable African struggles. Nneka very much focuses on the sonic value of the album and as beautiful as they are on the record, I have a strong feeling the songs would sound even better live.
Lyrically, she does not betray her heart. Her open and honest nature guides every theme explored. On one of the lead singles on the album “Book of Job”, she makes a biblical allusion to address how loves cuts through the sphere of human suffering. The religious and empathetic tone is also carried on the songs “Babylon”, “Surprise” and “Pray For You”; further emphasizing how much she borrows from and is inspired by facets of Rastafarian culture in speaking against injustice against minorities and fighting for social justice: [ kill me messenger/ but you fit kill the message…]. The song “Local Champion” also kicks against neo-colonialism and the increasing maladies often brought on by the filtering of African cultures and identities through westernization of Africans and their cities.
The album artwork shows a very somber Nneka with her eyes closed, surround by children as she bows her head behind a book sharing the album’s title. This illustrates the theme of stripped innocence that she expands on the album; how various injustices such as the plague of Boko Haram have stripped her and her people of their innocence and turning her fairy tales, which should be pleasant into a very vivid bleak reality.
This album is definitely a must listen and probably the best release by an African artist this year. It is deep blend of various musical genres incorporating, reggae, soul, funk, and highlife rhythms whilst maintaining an honest and highly reflective lyrical tone. It does not try to appeal to radio and still has incredible replay value. Nneka has come to possess a lot of power through her music – especially on the African continent, whilst still maintaining a global appeal. She has created a unique sound for herself and is using this to address the issues that are close to her art and serve as an instrument for social justice.
Press play to watch and listen to a selection of music videos and live performances of songs from the album.
Catch Nneka live currently on her North American tour:
NNEKA TOUR DATES
June 13 St. Louis, MO Duck Room
June 14 Chicago, IL Lincoln Hall
June 16 Toronto, ON Tattoo
June 18 Montreal, QC Fairmount Theatre
June 19 Boston, MA TT The Bear’s
June 20 Philadelphia, PA Milkboy
June 21 Washington, DC Jammin Java
June 23 New York, NY The Mercury Lounge