Nneka sees hope for future of Nigeria 

Nigerian reggae-ska singer takes on social issues of her native country in her music. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Nigerian reggae-ska singer takes on social issues of her native country in her music.

Nigerian R&B-reggae songstress Nneka Egbuna could barely believe it when she was invited to a posh function honoring her homeland’s legendary author Chinua Achebe two years ago, not long before he passed away.

“I had never met him before – I had just always quoted him,” says the singer, who based her second album “No Longer at Ease” on his book of the same name. “So it was amazing to sit with him and dine with him and just listen to him. I really learned a lot from him, about being humble and patient – patient with Nigeria, and patient with myself as a Nigerian woman.”

Nneka (her stage name) treasured what Achebe stressed to her that night: “He talked about the importance of listening, being able to really hear other people when they speak. So don’t be too confident about the knowledge that you have, because you do not know everything,” she says.

It’s wisdom she distilled, then applied to her latest effort, the sultry ska-soul-reggae fusion “My Fairy Tales,” which she’s backing in two Oakland shows this week. “I’m trying to be more positive on this record, and not just make it all dark and horrible and miserable. I balance it out with some form of hope, some ray of light,” she says.

Echoing Achebe’s most renowned work, “Things Fall Apart,” Nigeria has suffered serious socio-political upheaval lately, in the recent Ebola scare, the kidnapping of 219 still-missing schoolgirls by the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram (whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden”) and even the new fuel shortage that’s crippling the country’s currency.

But in her dub-echoey “Tales” track “Surprise,” Nneka urges listeners – not to panic -- but to “Count your blessings, take them one by one.”

“In the face of all this madness, there is a lot of love, a lot of sanity, and a lot of beauty,” believes the Igbo-descended, Warri-born artist, who still resides in Lagos.

She’s guardedly optimistic about incoming president Muhammadu Buhari, who launched a long-overdue military campaign against Boko Haram. “We don’t really know why Boko Haram exists, but every one of us has to assume their own responsibility,” she says. “Don’t wait on the government, don’t wait on anybody to help you – take the situation into your own hands and help yourself.”

She launched the Rope Foundation, which offers arts workshops to Nigerian youth, and also assists socially-abused and war-affected women in neighboring lands like Sierra Leone. “All things that our government could be doing,” she says. “But – like I said – we decided to take it into our own hands. And if we set these examples, then the government can learn from us, you know?”



Where: New Parish, 579 18th St., Oakland

When: 9 p.m. June 4-5

Tickets: $25 to $30

Contact: (510) 444-7474, www.thenewparish.com

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Tom Lanham

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