Brains, beauty and beats collide in the music of Nigerian-born newcomer Nneka. The release of her U.S. debut, Concrete Jungle, recently brought the singer to New York for a showcase at Joe's Pub and a session at WFUV. A small, gorgeous woman with an afro bigger than most, Nneka was warm and engaging from the start of one of her first-ever American radio appearances.
She played acoustic guitar and shared stripped-down versions of the songs from her album, which really let the lyrics and the politics shine through. The spirit of fellow Nigerian Fela Kuti looms large for her, and she spoke at length about his influence on her music and her life. She not only incorporates his Afrobeat legacy in her music, but also carries on his commitment to social justice. American soul is a key element of her sound, so we spoke about the great Curtis Mayfield and the story of her efforts to acquire the rights to his music for a sample.
It's always interesting to talk to an artist about to embark on her first stateside tour. You'll hear that Nneka approaches it from a healthy perspective, and that she brings the same enthusiasm to her message that she brings to the cause of getting people up and dancing.