NNEKA plays Virgin Mobile Mod Club Friday (March 23) as part of CMW. See listing. Rating: NNNN
It's a bit lazy to describe Nneka as the Nigerian-German answer to Lauryn Hill, but it is a reasonably accurate shortcut. Erykah Badu's cosmic hip-hop soul sound would be another obvious reference point, but Nneka comes across as much more grounded than either Badu or Hill. Her voice also has a unique brassy quality that sets her apart from the American conscious R&B set even before she slips out of English and starts rapping in Igbo.
Technically, Soul Is Heavy is Nneka's third album, but it's her first North American release (she previously tested this continent's waters with the 2010 compilation Concrete Jungle). At 15 tracks, Soul Is Heavy would have had more impact with some editing, but the quality is consistently strong. Occasionally, it feels like she's trying a little too hard to reach American ears, but she balances the conservative neo-soul vibes with just enough hard left turns to keep listeners on their toes.
Top track: Do You Love Me Now