Who: Nigerian-German artist whose raspy voice, deft rapping and soulful grooves helped her land a Euro club hit with “Heartbeat” last year. Her skills have made fans of Lenny Kravitz and the Roots, who backed her at a New York show.
Sounds Like: Nneka’s U.S. debut Concrete Jungle pits hip-hop beats and Afro-funk grooves against lyrics about racism, colonial powers and slavery. On the roots-reggae cut “Africans” she sings “We use the same hatreds to oppress our own brothers.” “Heartbeat” is a pulsing tribal-funk anthem that doubles as a plea for the world not to ignore Africa’s problems.
• Nneka, 29, grew up listening to her dad’s Fela Kuti records in Warri, Nigeria, where “there was a lot of corruption and poverty.” As a result, she’s always been drawn to social-conscience music rather than love songs. “I like songs with a message,” she says. “I’m conscious about making change in this world.”
• At 19, she moved to Hamburg, Germany, to study anthropology and started rapping at open-mike nights. “I wasn’t courageous enough to sing,” she said. “But the German mentality was different than what I was used to, and I felt isolated. Singing became my therapy.”
• This summer Nneka will hit the road with the revamped Lilith Fair alongside artists like Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow and Tegan and Sara. “I’m bringing the African vibe, man,” she says.
Get It Now: Check out Nneka’s video for “Heartbeat” up top and more from Concrete Jungle on her MySpace.