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A Star On The Horizon

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A Star On The Horizon

Nne2Stars don’t come bigger than Nigerian-German musician and songwriter, NNEKA EGBUNA. In this interview, she tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN about her life and music.
She looks small but her tiny frame is no match to the power of her vocal. She has been traversing the international music scene for some years before her big break in Nigeria a few years ago. Nneka Lucia Egbuna is a German-Nigerian hip hop/soul singer and songwriter.
Amazingly, she sings in both Igbo and English. She has been working, since 2003, with the hip hop beat maker DJ Farhot, a producer living in Hamburg. As a young singer, she first gained public attention in 2004, while performing as an opening act for dancehall reggae star Sean Paul, at Hamburg Stadtpark. After much acclaim, Nneka was given a green light to record her first album.
In 2009, she performed at the ION Film Festival, in Port Harcourt, where she sang one of her popular songs ‘Vagabonds in Power,’ to the delight of Governor Rotimi Amaechi who later reacted to the lyrics in his speech. “I didn’t expect that reaction from him,” Nneka recalls.
“He actually took it very humorously, but I was not pointing any fingers; I was not speaking to one person specifically. I think I did an introduction and I had explained that we have to take responsibility for what is going on in the country. I was not blaming political leaders alone but advocating a look at ourselves. Anyway, he took it with a lot of humour. After that he came to the backstage and said he likes my courage.”
‘Vagabonds in Power,’ she says, is a song she performs on every set, especially when she thinks it is appropriate. “There were a lot of people gathered there,” she explains, “people who have a lot of impact on society, on the future of Nigeria and I felt why not use the opportunity to talk about issues and proffer solutions instead of just entertaining them so that they have a good time and go home and sleep well, while other people are suffering on the street. I represent the street; I represent two ‘heritages’ – the posh and the ghetto more or less.”
It is surprising to know that Nneka suffers privations like ordinary folks. She grew up in Warri; she went to primary school in Aladja and attended a public secondary school, Demonstration Secondary School Warri. “When they see you, they stereotype you,” she says. “We had to go through a lot. I have always felt that you don’t have to travel outside the country or be exposed to a different world before you have a heart. I grew up with a heart, I grew up in Nigeria and I had a heart before I left the country and I came back with a bigger heart because I also saw that it’s not only in this country that we suffer. There is suffering everywhere. There is mental torture.”
Nneka’s father was never rich but he fought for her and her siblings. He used to be an architect in the 1970s after the Nigerian Civil War. He was among the Igbo people that got scholarships after the war. “From the story I heard, that was when he met my mum who is a German. They both moved back to Nigeria. My mother lived in Warri for about 20 years. They built a business together. I was not born at this time. I never knew my mother until I was 17. My father always got things going for us, but there were issues. There were always issues because he was not successful in his business as an architect. He is a kind man; he will do a lot of things for free. Contracts, they will never pay him. So, we had to suffer. It was hard. “We grew up in a polygamous home, but that’s another story; a whole different story.”
Nneka did not meet her mother until she was 17, because her mother left Nigeria. She first met her in Germany. But becoming a permanent resident of Germany did not come easy at all for Nneka, who was deported when she went to Germany for the first time.
“It’s not the German government that deported me, but I got deported. Three years after, I made a second attempt and ended up in an asylum, a reformation facility in Hamburg with some drug addicts and folks who were looking for papers. It was a place for foreigners and people who didn’t have papers. The German Embassy in Lagos had recommended I stayed there when I approached them because my family was not involved due to what happened before.
“So, I lived there for a few months before they took me in, in a Catholic Home. They owned a kind of hostel for men and women. They gave me a room; two other women were living with me. One from Germany and the other was a Polish, and they had their own thing. From there I started learning German and they enrolled me in school. I got a job and eventually I was able to study because my focus was to do something with my life; not throw it away.”
Nneka tells me she has never been a woman who went the fast lane, even if things were hard. “I could have ended up a prostitute, that’s easy,” she says. “I could have done that. I could have gone the fast lane, but I’ve always been with God even if many times stray away from God. I just always managed to remind myself that this is where you are coming from and this is where you want to go. The only way you can get there is by being focused, don’t allow yourself to be distracted and that’s what I did. I found myself with good people, very good people.”
After studying Anthropology, Nneka finds love in music, what she was doing to finance her studies. “I was doing music to finance my study. That was how I was able to get my degree. Music was something I did for the love of it, but then I ended up performing a few times and from that money I would finance my accommodation and my studies. I had two other jobs. I cleaned toilets in a cinema for like three years, and then I was a secretary in a driving licence school. Then I was a sales girl, I was distributing fliers.”
Nneka started music professionally when she signed a contract with Sony Music in Germany. “I got kicked out from my job where I was working as a sales girl in a boutique. When I got kicked out, I felt I needed to invest more time into my music so I started to walk around town when I found out a record company that was based in the city. I decided to go there and when I got there, on the signboard was written ‘Yo Mama.’ Underneath was written ‘mother is supreme.’ Nneka means mother is supreme and that was my connection to the signboard and to the record company.”
From that point, Nneka’s life changed. “I got there, they let me in. I met the manager, I played him my CD, he loved it and he invited me to a couple of shows. I invited him to two shows. Two or three months later, he invited me and wanted me to sign a contract. I signed to Yo Mama Records, which was then an independent label, and from the independent label he decided to take it to the next level. Yo Mama Records was then sold to Fun Music, which in turn sold to Sony and that was how I became a major record artiste.”
A couple of years ago, music meant love and peace to Nneka. But a few years after, the meaning changed when she realised that people take advantage of it for money. “A couple of years after I began to hate it because of what we do with it, especially when I realised that people come and take advantage in the name of money. I began to hate the business aspect of it when I started thinking like a business woman and started losing my soul. So, I hate that part of it. I had to retune myself, remind myself why I am doing what I am doing. Do I still love it? Do I still feel it?
“Every time I stand on that stage, why am I standing on that stage and why would I have to run a race with other artistes? Why is it a competition when it’s supposed to be something you do because you love it? The competition, society, record companies made me hate music. Now, I am on the road to mending, to love it again and I think the only way that I can preserve that love is by reminding myself of my intention, of who I am. When I open my mouth, do I sound like somebody else or do I have my own story?
“Music is me; music is my own story. Music is the story that God has placed inside of me. My music is unique. It is the plant that I watered and that is growing. It is mother is supreme, it is Nneka. It’s me because it brings people together; it’s like soccer and it is powerful. It is very powerful, more powerful to some extent than religion. It’s more powerful than politics.
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