Soul is heavy, wisdom is sweet: Unraveling the mysteries of Nneka

MTV Iggy, March 1, 2012

It’s been three years since Nneka Egbuna moved back home.

At 19, she had moved away from Nigeria to Germany, her mother’s country, where she studied anthropology and began her music career. But after releasing two albums and getting a little shine on the European circuit, she knew it was time to return.

Now 31, Nneka makes her permanent home in Lagos, Nigeria’s turbulent metropolis.

Lagos is where she gets her energy, where she engages in politics, where she composes songs that weave in and out of the rich Pidgin patois. It’s a place where the power goes out and the police are corrupt and vast amounts of money are made, legally and otherwise, while migrants pour in from the hinterland to scoop up the crumbs.

It’s a raw place, and it’s very Nneka—blunt, vibrant, uncompromising.

The city lends itself to metaphor, and so, given all this, it’s no surprise that Nneka finds a life lesson for humanity in the epic traffic jams that infamously snarl circulation in Lagos, turning the simplest errand into a multi-hour ordeal, breeding frustration and aggressive behaviors of all sorts. As she sees it, the futility of those maneuvers in gridlock tells us something about our souls.

“It could move,” Nneka says. “But we are all rushing, rushing—and then we get to the bottleneck. And then we are all standing still and asking ourselves questions. And that’s our biggest problem. We don’t listen to one another, we don’t complement one another. Because we are stubborn, we are egocentric.”

Is she speaking of Lagosians? Nigerians? All human beings? Or about herself? The best answer is “Yes.”

Because Nneka’s songs toggle back and forth between the personal and the political, the local and the universal, in a way that only the rawest, most self-searingly lyrical artists can pull off. Everything is in play—God, government, love, sexuality, aspiration, self-doubt. It’s all in the title of her new album: Soul is Heavy.

Read the full story at