Nneka contradicts Nietzsche, her compatriot, on Love Supreme, her fourth studio album. In This Life, the album’s fifth track, the Nigerian-German sings, “Your God is not dead,” inverting Nietzsche who wrote that “God is dead,” that 18th-century Enlightenment had made belief in the divine obsolete. In Love Supreme, love reigneth over everything. Love for God and for a former lover. And perhaps most of all, love for the self, which Nneka believes is a precondition for the love extended to someone else. She gives new words to this old idea in Tea? when she sings that “when we love our self, we can love ourselves.” An insight that’s anything but startling. But the songwriting in this album isn’t exactly hopeful of a Pulitzer. Speaking of love, so easily does ego stand in its way in the aftermath of a break-up. And Instagram is the amphitheater where, for weeks or months after a relationship ends, former lovers compete to out-happy and out-happy emoji each other.
On Instagram, a woman posts a photo of her “new boo”; a man, a photo of himself “living the best of times with longtime pals.” But there’s an explanation for this social media grandstanding, one underwritten by egotism as much as by the will to reclaim one’s self-independence. To beat back from memory he or she who has colonized one’s affections. Love, as we know, asks us on some level to hand over the keys of our happiness to another human being, and hope that they don’t get bored of playing janitor by next week.
These Instagram performances thus function as a giant billboard advertisement, to notify a former lover that one no longer relies on them for happiness. That there is now, in the plot of emotional land left ungrazed on their departure, a “new boo” or a reclaimed batch of “longtime pals.” Not Nneka. In Tea? Nneka sends out a friendly invitation, not an Instagram diss, to an ex-lover.
She suggests to this former lover that they both sit “by the sea,” where she plans on telling him about how she’s recently taken up “yoga,” and listening to him talk about the things that have happened in his life in their time apart. Nneka’s voice may be weightless, sotto voce, and like a child’s in this album. But she negotiates romance, even when it’s taken an ugly turn, with all the zen energy of a well-adjusted adult. Maybe it’s got something to do with all that time spent on a yoga mat.
There’s a hint of political commentary in Yansh, where her rush of monosyllabic rhyming recalls a more rustic HipHop epoch. But this is a mostly autobiographical album. Or a biographical one, if like Nneka you’re willing to acknowledge God as the author (and finisher) of her life. This God theme comes as no surprise to anyone who’s stalked her music career. In her first album, Victim of Truth (2005), she titles a track God of Mercy. In her last album, she had titles like Book of Job and Babylon. This spirituality theme forges on in this album. God loves her despite her failings. And she’s bent on extending this kindness to her ex-lover, to everyone in fact, whatever their flaws may be. With an eerie and bassy production, Nneka makes a soulful Soul album that preaches love with as much childlike innocence as her singing voice evokes.