His first album Victims of the truth (2005) Global media compared it to recording deseducation Name: Lauren Hill. Nneky’s penetrating and politically engaged songs – oscillating between soul, RnB, electronic and reaggae – fascinate with a similar combination of passion and melancholy. Here Nneka Egbuna (* 1980) does not even lose a novelty supreme lovewhich she released earlier this year. “As an African, I was brought up to keep my feelings to myself. You can’t cry in public. Being expressive is not rebellion, I’m just that. that I treat them,” says Nneka.
At supreme love you seek peace and reconciliation. These are topics that seemed to be increasingly important in recent months…
No wonder it resonates, even though I wrote the songs on the album before the pandemic. supreme love it’s full of inner discussions with God that helped me better understand what I was going through. Understanding myself is something I have always dreamed of, no matter what happens to the world around me. I have always sought the deeper meaning of things. Now only the world finally follows me (to laugh). I was a prisoner of my own loneliness long before a pandemic threw us into loneliness. But when the whole world passes by, of course, a lot of things escalate.
We hear more and more often the influences of afrobeats and the names of African artists in the global mainstream. You have surpassed this tendency by many years of your work…
Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Rihanna or Drake, they are all doing Afrobeat today! This is partly because today afrobeats is no longer just a musical movement, but part of a larger effort to raise the profile of Africa. To change its image as a continent with many problems, which according to the media depends on the West and non-profit organizations. The music that comes from Africa shows that the opposite is true, that the West is dependent on Africa, and not only in terms of mineral resources, but also of culture. At the same time, I think afrobeats have the ability to connect Africans to the diaspora and, in a way, to complete the connections that people lost in Africa because of the transatlantic slave trade. Cooperation between Western and African artists is also much more intense today. (Note red.: We recently took a critical look at the phenomenon called afrobeats.)
Nneka in three ways, photo: nnekaworld.com
You talk about it positively. Do you see any negatives there? It kind of seems like an alibi to me. We will make room in African culture, but we will not change trade policies – disadvantageous for African states.
West Africa uses so many of them that I’m not really worried that interest in Afrobeats or African culture in general will overshadow that fact. The West is still pushing its hands into so many things! There is almost no talk of how some African countries oppress others precisely to maintain good relations with the West.
The traumas of the colonial past and the neo-colonial present provide pretexts to terrorize local populations to various militant groups. On the penultimate album my fairy tales you are in a song Pray for you reacted to the abductions of women at the time by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. What is the situation today ?
Originally, these militant groups sought to eliminate the Western way of teaching and to prevent the West from influencing local populations. However, it turned into something completely different. In this song, I came across kidnappings of women from a village. According to the kidnappers, the women were oppressed by Western influences at school and they “liberated” them. Some never returned, others fell in love with their captors and have children with them. But no one cares about you anymore. Today, there are many different militant sub-groups in Nigeria reporting and hiding from Boko Haram with the aim of forcibly drawing attention to various societal issues. People are upset about many things, tribalism, religion and speculation over resources that belong to them are involved. It’s incredibly confusing. We Nigerians don’t understand much about what’s going on either.
You don’t just deal with social and political issues in music. Since 2012, you’ve run The Rope Foundation, which helps people find their own voice through art, and you’re an ambassador for the African Women’s Development Fund. How do you manage to combine it with your musical career?
I put the money I earn with music into my projects. I don’t wonder if it’s hard or not. I don’t even talk about it anymore, I’m just trying to get the job done and I’m done. I support specific people who want to change something. Sometimes it’s very difficult, you don’t think about anything and it causes you unnecessary problems. I’m trying to take a step back now and think about what I can do differently. Even though I was not alone – my friend Ahmed Nyei, who started the Rope Foundation with me, did – the beginnings were very difficult. I couldn’t ask for help or money at all.
This year’s album cover supreme loveReproduction: decks.de
In addition to Nigerians, you also have German roots. in the track half sunk from the album More comfortable you talk openly about your problematic relationship to your own dual identity. What was it like growing up in Nigeria?
It wasn’t that bad. You know, a certain Janette also went to our school at the time – a white girl who had a much harder time. That’s when I said to myself: I almost look like you, we could be friends. But she wouldn’t; the other children did not treat her well. We didn’t miss it at all. She was beautiful to us, with blue eyes and silky blond hair. But at the same time, they were insulting me, biting us and watching Janette blush. But I had friends and I didn’t feel so repulsed. When we were older this reversed – suddenly everyone wanted to have lighter skin than me. Young girls even bleached their skin to make it lighter.
Because being white or white is the only “correct” form of what a human being should look like?
It’s true, various whitening creams are used, as well as hair chemicals to smooth them, especially not wearing an afro. When you have an afro on your head, people think you’re crazy. You look dirty and messy. At school, we all still wear colonial uniforms, British style, white socks… We have to wear Western hair. When we didn’t, we were punished.
For my generation – and it doesn’t matter if you are black or mixed race – the Nigerian education system has been traumatic. He kept showing that the way you are is wrong. Now it’s a little better in Nigeria, there’s a certain African pride coming back, we’re starting to be proud of our culture and our physical appearance. I think it’s also because Nigeria is relatively rich, we have mineral resources, which affects both our reputation and how we perceive ourselves. We have reason to be proud of ourselves. But this is not the case in the poorest countries. In many parts of Francophone West Africa, people still bleach their skin and you can feel their humiliation around every corner.
With the fact that I actually have fair skin, I then arrived in Europe (to laugh). I thought I was half white and people on the street were yelling all these racial slurs at me. It took me a long time to be proud of my identity. I let my natural hair grow out, I stopped shaving my legs. I left it as is.
Why did you move from Germany to Wari, Nigeria, an industrial town in southern Nigeria, Germany?
I rather ran there. It was a terrible shock for me, culturally and linguistically. I have never been outside of Africa. However, I was very open and determined to give it a chance. Also because I grew up in an environment that convinces you that everything is better in the West. I had to find it out on my own. Some things are better, some not at all. We lie to ourselves by making ourselves happier in the West. It was only in Europe that I understood what it means to experience racism and what it means to be racist yourself. It wasn’t easy to admit that I was thinking so subconsciously myself.
Nneka: “It took me a while to become proud of my identity. I let my natural hair grow out, I stopped shaving my legs. I left it as it was.” Photo: nnekaworld.com
A society that indirectly fears otherness, but educates against racism. It is then up to us to recognize and fight for change.
Exactly. It wasn’t until later that I realized that because of the racism I was experiencing, I was accepting the feeling of being truly different. I felt inferior, but also a little superior. I realized that by focusing on my own otherness, I was helping to create even invisible tension. It’s not nice, it doesn’t feel right, but it’s right.
The pandemic has allowed us to take a closer look at ourselves and has also helped to open up these topics. I feel like we were apart, but it actually brought us closer. For example, in Germany, but also elsewhere, we talked a lot more about racism, not only with people of African origin, but also of Asian origin, which we hadn’t talked about at all until then. Whether these social movements also present a solution remains to be seen. We’re talking about it now, okay. But this is only the first step. But we’ll also have to start dealing with it somehow.