Released: March 2015
She’s been sampled by Rita Ora and remixed by Chase & Status but on fifth full-length LP My Fairy Tales, Nneka is further than ever from the mainstream. A German-Nigerian singer, songwriter and actress, Nneka displays a suitably eclectic range of styles and influences, varying from dark electro beats to classic ska rhythms imbued with a modern grittiness that can only place this record in the present. A fine reflection of a multi-cultural society where western dance beats fuse with African percussive textures and Caribbean grooves, My Fairy Tales is broadly accessible and intimately compelling in equal measure.
To summon up links to other modern pop stars, Nneka’s is a voice that recalls Paolo Nutini or Ellie Goulding, exuding a youthful spirit synergic with growling undertones that convey wisdom and an eye for societal observation. Her songs are finely crafted intelligent pieces that recognise classic tropes of ska and reggae, and this awareness of history is equally displayed in the vintage style of her vocal performances. Whether she is ascending from vulnerable to empowered on Believe System or expressing almost primal sounds through her emotive ad-libs on the reprise of the compelling My Love, My Love, this cultured performer rarely disappoints.
Stylistically Nneka is never happy in just one place, cruising around the globe and darting from genre to genre with ease. Whilst Babylon kicks off with a rousing jazz funk intro only to go on to emulate classic Calypso sounds and hallmark African traits, Local Champion plays with the EQ and introduces electro synths to a distinctly ska-orientated number. The fusing of sounds so prevalent on this record refuses to follow any kind of formula, which is what really makes it work; every time a track moves from one style to another it feels totally natural despite probably having never been attempted before.
Perhaps the only place in which My Fairy Tales’s experimental qualities fail to deliver are in its closing track, the highly electronic In Me. Here a computerised Caribbean sounding number develops into some sort of Euro-dance-pop, build-up and drop included, and the whole thing betrays the more groove-orientated vibe of the record thus far, failing to hang together convincingly. All things taken into account however, this is a mere blemish on an otherwise stellar record.
An emblematic example of how looking to the past can steer an artist to the future, My Fairy Tales is Nneka’s most experimental, not to mention strongest, album yet. Instrumentally thrilling with a powerful and poetic voice for embellishment, this LP never fails to surprise and is almost as sparing with its disappointments. Self-assuredly unusual and unendingly multicultural, Nneka serves as the unexpected testament to the sound of music in 2015.