Soul Is Heavy, Nneka’s third international album, contains one word that embodies pure apathy. “Where is love?” Nneka asks, “Is it God?” Then she answers her own question: “Whatever.”
For eight years Nneka has rapped, sang and toured on behalf of Nigerian citizens like herself, who often live without health care and education. In Soul Is Heavy, she levies a few wry criticisms. The album’s catchiest chant has Nneka throatily spelling out what she thinks “V.I.P.” really means: “Vagabond in Power.” “God Knows Why,” featuring Black Thought of the Roots, may start with an organ melody fit for a carousel, but then a voice resembling Barack Obama’s announces, “We civilize freedom ’til no one is free/ no one except, by coincidence, me.”
Throughout, Nneka’s voice rises and falls and breaks in moments of anger, defeat and, yes, apathy – reflecting a tired and torn patriotism. “J” is a serene piano prayer basking in Jah’s presence; “Do You Love Me Now?” is a grateful acoustic ballad – at least until her voice shivers while singing the last word: “control.” Soul Is Heavy may be inspired by Nigeria’s suffering, but thanks to Nneka’s vocal leaps and bounds, it’s a jarring reflection of today’s greater unrest – global and personal.