It was a night unlike many others in Los Angeles, the small club was packed to the rafters with people representing all walks of life and a variety of countries- especially African countries. A medley of languages and dialects levitated in an atmosphere of peace and celebration. One of Africa’s own was to hit the stage and it felt long-awaited.
“Every time I give or perform, I open myself to the world. It’s like stripping naked every night. When you take or receive, make sure you don’t keep it to yourself…it’s all love.” -Nneka
Touting heavy weight collaborations with artists like Talib Kweli and the Roots, Nneka’s name resounds as a massive force to be reckoned with. However, nothing could have prepared the audience for the tiny frame that sauntered onto the Troubadour’s stage. In an instant, she was almost swallowed whole by the music, lights, and cheering audience. That is, until she parted her lips to reveal the mighty lion of a voice hidden within her bite-sized frame.
Vocally reminiscent of Angelique Kidjo meets Lykke Li, Nneka shared diamonds of wisdom and anecdotes laced in her smokey Nigerian accent and pidgin English. Through parted lips and painfully closed eyes, she sang overcome with emotion, swaying and dancing. Her messages of life were as natural as her hair, face void of makeup, and simple outfit. Sometimes she sounded on the brink of tears; other times, rapping or hitting shrill falsetto notes accompanied with an other-worldly vibrato she seemed infallible.
Using Afro Beat, Reggae, Rap, Funk, Rock, and Jazz as the vessels of choice, her 11-song set lead the audience on an electrifying and spiritually moving ride. Recounting stories of struggles in her native Nigeria, the world at large, and our very own internal battles, she still managed to get the audience to dance and sing along with so much energy that many people needed towels and a rest after the show. During the powerful, Fela Kuti inspired song, “Vagabonds in Power”, she wound up the massive audience in the call and response chant of “Vagabonds in powa-ohh”, referring to world and self corruption.
Mixing up the set, some songs showcased her playing an ornately designed acoustic guitar as she sang along with her talented four-piece band. Not to be ignored, her guitarist- who was also a treat- was given free range to solo in styles ranging from George Benson to Eric Clapton. Although she claimed they had only been playing together for 6 shows, they gelled like old friends.
Nneka’s show was the perfect merging of soul, body, and the power of music and the crowd didn’t want the show to end. As the stage lights dimmed, the crowd howled, “Nneka! Nneka! Nneka!” And she remerged for an encore.
America 2 U
Do You Love Me
Soul Is Heavy
Words by Aisha Humphey, Photos by Shareef Ellis