Sunday, 27 September 2009
BY CHUKS NWANNE
Though the event was her official unveiling as the performer for the IoN International Film Festival scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers State, I got an opportunity to chat up Nneka Egbuna on her recent nomination for this year’s MOBO and Channel O Awards coming up next month. As usual, the Nigeria-born Germany-based artiste, was her usual self— friendly but tough with words. One minute, she sounds friendly and tender; within seconds, she’s an activist, championing the cause of the black continent.
Though light skinned, Nneka is a living witness to racism; she got humiliated several times in Germany for her skin colour. Yet in Nigeria, her type is usually called oyinbo. All these experiences influenced her style of music, which is gradually putting her in the spotlight from a very humble beginning.
“When I left Nigeria for Germany, I was totally on my own without friends and family. My trip wasn’t really planned; I never wanted to step out of Nigeria. All I wanted was a better life,” she recalls.
On arrival in Germany, the Anambra State native was placed in the Asylum Information Facility; a place where people who are homeless are kept, for about three months with other homeless kids and a lot of foreigners from other countries.
“Eventually I got out of that facility and got a place of my own though it was also financed by the state. I started school and started learning the German language but I was lonely and I needed something to hold onto and music was the only thing that gave me that solace and so it became my family.”
Despite all the challenges, Nneka had just one convenient means of communication— music. Luckily, she got a record deal with which she paid her way through school.
“It was a big relief for me,” she muses. “Music gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and have experiences. Personally, music gave me even more courage and a healthy dose of self-esteem because before I left the country, I did not have any self-esteem.”
Combining her studies with music in Germany was a very difficult task for Nneka, but she had no option than to cope.
“That was very difficult but I struggled through it because I was brought up in a home, where education was paramount; my dad drummed that into me. He made me to understand that a beautiful voice or face amounted to little if there was nothing in the brain. Despite the fact that he did not pay for my studies because maybe at the time he may have thought I would grow up to be a wayward person, I wanted to prove to my family that I was capable of making something with my life by the help of God and I think I have been able to achieve that.”
Today, Nneka has three albums to her credit, with the fourth coming up early next year. Her first effort, Victim Of Truth was released in 2004, before No Longer At Ease, which was titled after the popular Chinua Achebe’s novel and the latest work, Africa To And Fro.
Which of the songs got you the nominations?
“The nominations came from the hit single, Heartbeat from the album, No Longer At Ease. I shot the video in Ogba, Lagos and it got me three nominations; one Channel O and two MOBO.”
The nominations wouldn’t have been a big deal for the Archaeology and Anthropology graduate, if not that both awards were tied to the African consciousness.
“That made them a very big deal for me,” she quips. “Channel O is an African channel and thus, the award is continental in scope and this fact made me very happy because it meant Africa acknowledged my music. Prior to now, I’d heard people say my music was too oyinbo for the African palate. It was not that I did not want to sing in Igbo or Urhobo, but I needed to keep to my style because I wanted to reach a wider audience with my music. I’m happy that not just Nigeria television stations, but also a Channel O, which is an African channel, has acknowledged my music as African.”
… And MOBO? “The Music Of Black Origin (MOBO) nomination is another thing all together; the name alone made it quite a big deal and it made my day and if I should win the award, that should something serious indeed.”
Did you ever think music would take you this far?
“Never! Especially this Heartbeat video; not that I did not do it with all my heart but it was something we did very fast. We actually spent two days working on it because we had to submit it that time, so, we did everything sharp sharp. I submitted it, came back to Nigeria and did the MTN show with Tu Face. Surprisingly after two days, my manager calls me to say MTV put the video on number one. The response to the video has been overwhelming, with people trying to reach me from all over the world with requests for gigs. That is how the Heartbeat video has taken me places.”
Though half-breed, Nneka considers herself an African; not minding her skin colour and long hairs. “I’ve always said that skin colour does not have any bearing on being African; though I actually experienced this form of racism, especially in school where I had this professor who refused to give me my scores for a dissertation I submitted. First of all he was concerned about the topic because he said it was personal; I was writing on The Term Nigger In Present Europe and he thought I would include too much of my personal point of view into it.”
And what happened? “He said if I was to do that, I should make it just a small paragraph and that was exactly what I did. Eventually, after writing a 30-page thesis, he said I did not have enough references even though I had about 20 of them. He said to me, “you black people are good in singing and I have done so much research into your music, so, I wonder why you are not satisfied with what you have? I have found out that you guys are good at playing basketball and sports…” he was boxing us in a corner. I went to him three times thinking he may have had a bad day the first time I saw him, but he remained adamant and the third time he really let his venom spew over me so much so that I left his office weeping. I ended up doing another seminar and got my scores.”
So, do you consider yourself to be a rebel?
“Rebel is actually a good thing as long as I am not a dictator or spreading negative energy; then cool; I stand for love and the truth. Though I won’t say I’m a rebel, you said so and I claim it.”
From all indications, Nneka’s life experience, especially on the streets of Warri, greatly influenced her style of music.
“They made me do my music with ‘consciousness’ because I am still learning. Also the way and manner I grew up has made me very proud of being a Nigerian. Though I wasn’t too proud before I left the country, I later experienced what it felt like when people give you a colour and I was proud to be part of something profound, my roots. So when I am outside I am always very proud to say I am a Nigerian from Wafi.”
As for the upcoming ION International Film Festival, Nneka already has a plan.
“I will not only be performing just songs, but also try to educate the youths that one does not need to travel out of the country to make it in life. So I will basically be raising awareness on self-growth and national pride among Niger Deltans.”
Nneka wrapped up the chat with a commentary on the country’s music industry.
“We have everything here but the only thing I see is the fact that we have to invest more time and patience. We need to develop more education and a passion for our creative works because we have all the resources. When it comes to performance, I noticed people do playback a lot and the thing be say we even pay to watch. It’s sad that Nigerians will pay to watch a massive show and when you get there, it is playback they do. If that was all they were expecting, the guests could as well sit at home and slot their CDs and listen to the songs on their own.”
Seyi serves fresh beats
In case you’ve been wondering about the whereabouts of Palongo music exponent, Seyi Solagbade, then you have every reason to be at the White House, Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos this evening. The artiste, who has just wrapped up his third album, No King As God, will be thrilling his fans in a special live concert to mark the official release of his latest work.
The saxophonist, who is well known around Europe, having toured round the continent, will seize the opportunity to give a dose of his Afromusic style to his large fans, who have waited patiently for the new album.
“I was busy doing shows around the world; I was not really interested in making an album. I started from the stage to making albums, that’s the way I was brought up and that’s where the power is”, he said.
The 12-track album, which is already gaining massive reviews in the media, featured songs such as Fakky Crazy, New Dance, Ayawani, Comurado, Show Boys, Show them Africa, Maromi Pin and others.
“I’m a show man and I’m inviting my friends to come and enjoy themselves and even play if possible. I plan to bring in young people, give them platform to showcase themselves that day. Mainly, I just want to perform.”
Don’t expect to see the usual 14-man Black Face Band at the event; the Black Face Band has taken a new shape.
“It used to be a 14-piece band, but has changed to nine people now. However, the music remains the same. It was difficult taking the whole band for tours outside the country, so, it’s necessary for us to break the number. Aside from that, I just wanted to put the music in a very small package.”
Seyi belongs to the group of artistes, who are not worried about the strong influence of hip-hop music in the country’s music scene, especially among the youths. To the light skinned multi-talented instrumentalist, music is all about culture.
“I’m not worried at all,” he says. “A music scholar once said that if you take your culture away from your music, then you are out of the way; originality is the basic thing of life. I’m not condemning anybody, but their music is seasonal in the sense that they come and go and that’s because originality is not there.”
He cited Fela Anikulapo as a typical example of how best to be original.
“Fela is gone, but if you play his song now, you will see the reaction of people. I’m not worried because what is good is good. The industry is improving in a way, but I don’t know when we are going to stop promoting mediocrity. When the corporate organizations want to invite a big band to play, they don’t pay, but they can get the boys that will mime their CD and pay them millions.”
He continues: “Abroad, people appreciate you based on your music. I’m doing music because I love what I’m doing; I was born into it. Originally, my plan was to combine different kind of music together. I want people to be listening to my music and be hearing different stuffs at the same time. It’s about fusing the genres of music together.”
Asked the secret behind the energy that comes with his stage performance, Solagbade explains, “I don’t take drugs to perform; what I do is to discipline myself. I think it’s natural for me to perform with such energy, but I stay away from women before any show. Many people see me and they believe I take one or two things, but the truth is that I’ve never done it in my life. My own is to play music and when the inspiration comes, I’m on.”
Meanwhile, Seyi’s former wife, Feyintolu, used to be an active member of the Black Face Band, where she was a backup singer and dancer before their marriage hit the rocks.
“Her absence has no impact in my music; even her presence had no impact. I intentionally created that space for her in the band. Right now, we don’t have dancers; we have all male band. She’s out of the system and she’s out of everything for life.”
Obesere on Stingomania Records
Paramount King of Fuji, Abass Akande Obesere, has signed up for Stingomania Records. Obesere, who was one of the two highest selling artistes during the glorious days of Sony Music, has finished work on his first hip-hop album, Revolution, which will be realed on his new label.
The 12-track album featured some top Nigeria hip-hop artistes such as 9ice, Lord of Ajasa, Timaya, Uncle Promise, Eazy Lizy and Young Trybson. With Revolution, Obesere has pioneered a new genre of music for himself which he calls ‘Fuji-hop’, a fusion of Fuji element with heavy hip-hop; the track with 9ice, Kin Noso, and in Gbose yewo, says it all.
In his new work, Obesere has an Igbo song, Ka Anyi Gbaa Egwu, with which he aims to attract the Ibo audience, where he believes he has wide followership as well.
According to the CEO of Stingomania Records, Ope Banwo, “We are ecstatic to sign and manage a megastar with a cross-over appeal like Obesere. We are also doubly excited to partner with him in leading the Fuji-Hop revolution that will finally merge the fans of Fuji and Hip-Hop under one music umbrella with Obesere as the paramount king of Music as the leading force. We can’t wait for the Revolution album to hit the airwaves.”
A nation-wide tour with top hip-hop act has been planned for the album, which is due for release in October.