Nneka, Soul Is Heavy

Christina Lee

By Christina Lee

on 02.28.12 in Reviews

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.”

A jarring reflection of today’s unrest

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.