"We have come to Africanize America!" a defiant Nneka proclaimed as she brought down the house on the VIPs (or "Vagabonds in Power," in her parlance) last Thursday night at NYC's Highline Ballroom. Switching flawlessly and fluidly between classic female R&B singer and Afro-beat spatting rebel, Nneka made sure there was no question that Africa was in the house and she had an attitude. With tunes like "Heartbeat," Nneka created musical tensions that could only be released through dance and communal song, helping us vocally challenged audience members with a dense vocal echo.
With new and inventive rhythms from places like Senegal, Nigeria, Cuba, and Latin America becoming increasingly accessible through the internet, their popularity is expanding little by little. Though not well known in the States, if Nneka's performance was any indication of the future, it seems she'll be heading the influx of new African artists taking America by storm in the near future—her excellent upcoming album Concrete Jungle will see to that.
But Nneka was only the beginning of a concert filled with hip-hop greats. On the last night of The Roots' jam series, the band shared the limelight with artists ranging from Sierra Leone natives Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew to English R&B star Marsha Ambrosius (of Floetry), and the Rev. Vince Anderson. It was sad to see The Roots jam band series end, but it was proof not only of their mightiness as a collective but their openness to new acts like Nneka. -Eric N. Sandler