Singer-songwriter and activist Nneka Egbuna is a fresh reminder that there are artists who believe they have the ability to influence the world and affect change. Her style is eclectic and soulful, filled with world sounds, and infused with her message of peace, love, and awareness. From the Delta region of Nigéria to stages around the world, Nneka has entertained and uplifted audiences with tracks like “Heartbeat,” “Shining Star,” and “Africans.” She has performed with legendary artists like the Roots, Damian Marley and Nas while holding her own and establishing herself as a musical force to be reckoned with.
Nneka’s groundbreaking debut EP “Victim of Truth,” released in 2005, quickly earned her comparisons to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” In 2010 she performed at Lillith Fair, joining the stage with fellow female artists, representing strength and empowerment. Since then, Nneka has continued to release music that is as much a reflection of herself as it is a reflection of her desire to spread hope. Nneka is currently collaborating on a project with Les Amazones d’Afrique, the first all- female supergroup of West Africa, but was able to answer some questions on her life, her music and the importance of female unity.
What was life like in Nigéria before you moved to Germany?
I live in Nigéria still. I was in Germany for a few years and moved back to Nigeria almost 10 years ago. I spend my time mostly on the road touring but mainly in Lagos when I am off.
My life was interesting. There were a lot of good things and of course bad things. I have learned to accept it’s all part of life. I went to school, primary and secondary in Warri. I grew up in Ugborikoko area, and when I had a timeout of school I would work as a sales girl in a small side road restaurant selling fried yam and food.
How did your experiences growing up shape you as a musician?
I have learned that this was only a life experience. The past is gone, hence what makes me who I am is now. My life experience is something I thought had shaped me but I was wrong to believe that as society domesticated us to believe so. I am Nigerian, hence I sing a lot about Nigeria. I sing about my relationship to God and other beings. I picked up the guitar and taught myself, took a few lessons from some friends. I have been engaged in a few activist movements to bring forth change on the planet hence my urge to be an inspiration as there is a lot of negativity in our world that we are responsible for.
What impact has music had on your life?
I have been able to see the world, travel places, meet wonderful people, share and learn from amazing talented human beings, do more music, and share it with different cultures. I am able to pay my bills and help some who might need assistance. I am able to buy a smartphone and laptop.
Why do you feel it is important to shed light on global issues through your music?
Because the world needs it as we are very unconscious.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Alice Coltrane. The Roots. Mobb Deep. Bob Marley and more.
You’ve worked with some amazing, legendary artists. Who would you love to collaborate with?
At this stage maybe Mos Def, maybe Lauryn Hill or Flying Lotus.
You performed in the 2010 Lillith Fair Concert among fellow female artists Erykah Badu, Sarah McLachlan, Mary J. Blige, and Kelly Clarkson (to name a few). How important is it for women to stand together and support one another?
Very important as we all see women, especially in certain African countries, are deprived of certain like going into politics or being taken seriously in higher positions. Even access to education is also difficult in certain African countries especially in Francophone, West Africa hence my project with Les Amazones. There is also the issue of female genital mutilation, women barely have any rights so we need to be more clear about what we want. And how we see ourselves is also very important. We need each other. Men need us too.
You co-founded the Rope Foundation in 2012 that provides a platform for young boys and girls to express themselves through art. What inspired you to get involved and what did you hope to accomplish through this foundation?
Literally support and help those who need it, especially those who are socially challenged. I was inspired by Ahmed Nye, co-founder of the organization, and the previous work he had done with child soldiers. I thought it was brilliant and educational. We needed to take it back to Africa, and be more effective on ground. So we partnered with other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Africa in order to accomplish certain projects like in Ghana with AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund). And also in Sierra Leone where we worked with women who had been involved in the war, women who fought and also got abused sexually. So what we did here was partner with a local NGO that we supported in order to provide these women with some sort of micro credit to establish their own business and build a better life.
The world is in so much turmoil and many people feel helpless. As human beings, what do you think we can all do to make a difference?
Be more conscious, breathe, not live in the past. Be good at all times, be kind every day. Look for someone you can be of help too.
Your latest release is the track “Nothing”. What was the inspiration behind writing this song?
It had a lot to do with the crisis of the refugees and how families tear themselves apart to find better lives, how many lose their lives in the process especially traveling dangerous routes. How the souls of a many speak to their loved ones, that regardless of physical separation we are connected to one another through God who is love. It is also talking about God’s love for us.
What is it about music that helps people get through difficult times? In what way has music helped you through difficult experiences?
Hmm.. I will say I create more when I have difficult times also because I want to be good to the world by being good to myself. Sweeping away the ego. It helps to remind me of who I am in God. I am thankful for melody, for rhythm. It saves us also through our history. We needed to sing in order to overcome pain, or should I say the illusion of pain. Music helps to be in the present moment.
Was there ever a point in your career when you wanted to give up? If so, what kept you going?
Well, give up…not really. But go away for awhile and just taking a distance from what I love. I needed to remind myself of the intention behind making music. Sometimes it got overwhelming with fans and expectations. But all I needed to do was to create my own space, and know that it is not all about me.
What message do you have for girls and women from Nigeria or other parts of the world who are struggling and trying to find their voice?
Don’t underestimate yourselves. Forgive yourselves. Be good to one another. Don’t be jealous when you see someone excel. Study and read books. Spend time with yourself, with God.
I don’t know what else to say. We must help ourselves.
What’s next for you?
Praying, meditating, being, and by God’s grace releasing that record.