Derailed: Nneka – Concrete Jungle

Every so often I will be posting under the ‘Derailed’ heading. This is for posts that are outside my normal comfort area…indie rock/pop.

Concrete Jungle, the first U.S. release from Nigeria-born, German resident Nneka, is not really a new album.  It’s a greatest hits collection from her 3 albums that have been released internationally over the past 4 years.  That being said, I’m not going to review this album as I normally would.  I am going to tell you about this amazing artists instead.

Guilty pleasures are something that have alienated me from my friends for quite some time now.  The pop-punk stuff, the 80’s hair metal and most recently Rihanna.  I mention that because some might think this is just another guilty pleasure.  But I would have to disagree.  Nobody this talented can  be considered a guilty pleasure.

The first person that will come to mind when you see Nneka standing at the mic with her huge afro will no doubt be Erykah BaduBadu has been a huge influence and I’m sure she looks to her for fashion tips, but her music goes beyond that influence.  Badu has become pretty political in recent years, but her politics come across as angry and unfocused.  Nneka does not make that mistake.  She sings about injustices from first hand experience (real injustices, not the pain of having babies with three different rappers).  She grew up in Nigeria.  She knows what pain and suffering are.  She knows corruption.  But she voices her anger against these evils in upbeat songs, such as Heartbeat. She gives her agony a melody.

Heartbeat was the first song I heard from Nneka and I probably played in a couple hundred times last summer.  It grabbed me from the first listen.  But like Robyn, before her U.S. release came years after she was popular everywhere else, I couldn’t find any other Nneka material.  It was frustrating, but Concrete Jungle was worth the wait.

The Erykah in Nneka gives way to Lauryn Hill, the next obvious reference.  She’s got Lauryn‘s smooth style and raw female power.  But the influences don’t end there…I can also hear some M.I.A. in her material and even some Missy Elliot when her singing turns to rhyming.

All in all, no matter how many influences I name, Nneka has a sound all her own.  A blend of African traditional music, European pop and American R&B.  Hopefully her next album includes a U.S. distribution as well.