One seldom falls in love with a song the second one hears it, but it happened to me with ‘Soul is Heavy’. I had just finished reading Sozaboy by Ken Saro Wiwa a Nigerian environmental activist killed in 1995 whilst in prison. My curiosity for Nigerian history and society was at its peek, and then I heard this song…
Nneka is a beautiful petit woman with the power to move mountains, you can hear it in her voice and in her lyrics that often portray a sense of anger, passion and force. She is a German-Nigerian singer, who debuted in 2005 with her first EP ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’. One of her most famous songs is “Heartbeat” where she literally sings the beating of her heart to whoever is listening, almost giving a sense that she is running out of breath.
“Can’t you see my heart is bleeding?”
Her album “Soul is Heavy” debuted in 2011. The album explores like never before her native country, Nigeria, and is an extremely personal and deep record. This title-track, which she wrote with hip hop artist Talib Kweli, is a poignant journey through Nigeria, in four minutes.
With a mixture of Afrobeat and RnB supporting her, Nneka walks around the country and reflects on the atrocities and injustices resulting from corruption, an ever growing cancer in Nigeria. The song begins with the word ‘Naija‘ a local slang way to say Nigeria; some say this word was coined by young Nigerians as a way of distancing themselves from the old guard, who they blame for Nigeria’s wars. Apparently, this is a word that Nigerians are very proud of.
She mentions names of Nigerian freedom fighters and activists such as executed activist Ken Saro Wiwa, 60s resistance fighter Isaac Adaka Boro, and Jaja, founder of the Nigerian city-state Opobo.
“I am, the voice of Isaac Boro,
I speak Ken Saro Wiwa
I am, the spirit of Jaja of Opobo
Fight for right, for our freedom
You? A power hungry class of army arrangements
Stealing money in my country’s plight
A soldier pretending to be a politician
You teacher who no nothing do not teach
Nneka’s anger towards the corrupt individuals, which she renames Vagabonds in Power (V.I.P) in her album, that have corroded her country is tangible in this song, the listener can feel it in her voice, in her lyrics. Together with this anger, her love for her native country is just as strongly present.
Naija in the loud and roudy of my world
there is a secret place where I find myself,
can I find you?
Biafra, the noise of horns of thirsty nigerians,
of hustlers, of mothers confront me as I walk pass
Lagos, in prayer contemplation, like a ghost
I feel the sorrow of a many,
still I do not know how much pain it takes
Naija, I walk the island, I walk the mainland,
I see diversity, I smell capacity but still we suffer, why?
I am, the voice of Isaac Boro,
I speak Ken Saro Wiwa
I am, the spirit of Jaja of Opobo,
fight for right, for our freedom
You? A power hungry class of army arrangements,
stealing money in my country’s plight
A soldier pretending to be a politician,
you teacher who no nothing do not teach
Naija, generators wake from my self pity,
no time to waste like okana, really hits
Naija, for too long we have surrendered
to the ignorance of ourself defense in you
we have failed
America, how far must we walk in calamity in suppression,
how long would take for you to love Naija
As I sit here i want to live,
there are so many plans for you but still I can’t deliver
Stealing money, in my country’s plight
You’re stealing money in my country’s plight
Great mother my respect for you is in depht
my fear od death for you might kill me
Fallen lucifer, percieve wahala,
as we embrace you with change,
you stay selfish fundamental
Black Africa, we still survive,
we still will rise for the world needs us to be America?
This soul is heavy, the little you have left to me,
I charge to function in your madness
I am… in your madness