Singer Nneka Egbuna in New African Woman Magazine April/May 2012. Image via AWDF.
I met Nigerian-German musician Nneka last June in Essaouira, Morocco. A day after her performance at the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival.
We chatted about her charity work particularly with Rope Foundation, an organisation she co-founded with fellow musician Ahmed Nyei. It seemed particularly apt as a key theme of the Gnaoua Festival is inter-cultural exchange and Nneka performed there with Mehdi Nassouli, a Moroccan Gnaoua musician.
“I’m a very introverted person normally, I’m very cautious about people I deal with normally” but with him “it just clicked”. I can tell you the audience agreed. The two of them together were magic. As she acknowledged Gnaoua music is “very similar to what we already know” in that it is a music and a culture that has its roots in West Africa.
Rope came out of the work that Ahmed Nyei had been doing with similar aims in terms of bridging cultures. His community work prior to Rope had been based in Germany where he lives, working to help integrate Afghan and Turkish children into the wider German society. Nneka wanted to take the idea to West Africa and Rope foundation was born out of the idea that “a strong rope needs many hands” and their invitation to the wider public is to “grab the rope”.
Rope conducts workshops based on themes affecting marginalised women and children in target areas such as Bo Town, Sierra Leone’s second largest city. There they’ve worked in tandem with an already established local organisation, WAGA Vocational Institution, which works with women affected by war and sexual abuse. Their 2012 workshop was aimed at helping a group of women tailors that WAGA works with to improve their business and creative skills so they could start making more original clothing by improving their designing skills. This was backed up by entrepreneurship seminars as none of these women had been making any money from the sewing work they had previously done. As Nneka put it “what we did was use what they already know and take it to the next level and so they can make profit for themselves”.
One of Rope’s latest efforts was collaboration with an existing organisation, this time with the German-based Music for Goals. It’s an annual event in Germany that brings together the worlds of football and music to promote racial tolerance, inclusion and respect. Nneka was the headlining act at the London Africa Centre’s summer festival and she recently performed in Paris to help raise money for organisations working with a social and solidarity economy agenda.
Revenue from the bags sold on Nneka’s website goes entirely to the tailors in Nigeria who make them. In addition to this she is an ambassador for the African Women’s Development Fund, a pan-African organisation based in Ghana which provides micro-credit to community-based organisations across the continent.
Music is such a powerful medium and has the potential to inspire people towards real social change, something you feel she is really aiming for when you listen to the lyrics of a song like Soul is Heavy. I for one will admit that I’d never heard of Isaac Boro before I heard that song.
So with Nneka, music isn’t just a vocation, her fame has been used as a tool to help promote community-building and social justice.