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Nneka

Soul is Heavy (Decon)

Reviewed by Dan Oko, Fri., March 16, 2012

SXSW 2012 Records

Nneka

Soul Is Heavy (Decon)

The political is personal for Nigerian-born Nneka, a product of the Niger delta, the streets of Lagos, and the clubs of Hamburg, Germany. On her second U.S. release, oil-patch politics, tribalism, and economic inequality give grave urgency to her hook-laden, reggae-tinged neo-soul. More Macy Gray than Esperanza Spalding vocally, Nneka kicks off with the propulsion of Peter Tosh on "Lucifer (No Doubt)," drops the clubby, danceable "Sleep" (chanted prayers and guest rapper Ms. Dynamite), then follows up with the album's thrusting first single, "My Home," later singing sweetly on the modern-day disco of "Shining Star." At 15 tracks, Soul's tautness sometimes suffers, but Nneka makes her heavy-lifting sound first-rate virtually all the time. On the title track, for instance, she aligns herself with freedom-fighters and activists. Faced with fighting environmental destruction amid her own spiritual inquiries, Nneka locates the joy in her global, hip-hop-derived 21st century version of the blues. (Sat., 11:45pm, the Stage on Sixth; Thu., 10:30pm, the Stage on Sixth)

***

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