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The Nigerian hip hop star hailed as the next big thing

From Tom Hayes, CNN
  • Nneka Egbuna was born to a Nigerian father and German mother in 1981, Warri, Nigeria
  • She discovered music as her passion while studying in Germany
  • Nneka's music highlights themes of injustice, oppression and poverty in Nigeria and Africa

Editor's note: Every week CNN's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Nigerian singer-songwriter Nneka Egbuna who has been heralded as music's next global star.

Watch the show on Saturdays at 1130 and 1830 GMT and Sundays at 1700 GMT.

(CNN) -- She may be small in stature, but the soulful voice of singer Nneka Egbuna is anything but.

It is no surprise that the petite Nigerian-born singer-songwriter lists Bob Marley and Nina Simone among her influences. Just as it was for them, Nneka's music "isn't just about the music" -- it's a call for change.

"It's to show the world that people come together for one reason -- in this case music. We are representing that love," Nneka told CNN.

Her music is a celebration of diversity. "We are all different in color, everybody has their own baggage, their own experience, but we have a way to communicate and this is the essence of this tour," she told CNN midway through her Concrete Jungle tour of the United States.

Video: Nneka Egbuna: the next big thing?
Video: Moving across cultures
Video: Growing up around violence

Nneka's musical profile has steadily risen since her 2005 debut album titled "Victim of Truth," -- which was listed as one of the records of the year by in 2006. In 2009, she won the Best African Act award at the UK's Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards.

Now on her fourth album, Nneka is garnering rave reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, while Spin magazine described her as one of the artists to watch for 2010.

Earlier this year, she performed on the David Letterman show introducing her to a massive U.S. audience.

At times it is easy to mistake her cool and laidback attitude for shyness but get her talking about issues close to her heart and she emerges as a firecracker with a big heart and many passions.

Born to a Nigerian father and German mother, Nneka grew up in her hometown of Warri, Nigeria, before leaving at the age of 19 to study in Germany.

Those years away from home made her examine what it meant to be Nigerian. And in the process, she found herself.

"The period of time that I spent in Germany educated me a lot about being Nigerian. Before, I never really was that conscious of my surrounding, of our politics. I knew that there was something going on, but I never really felt responsible," said Nneka.

Today she is on a crusade to address issues affecting her people -- her haunting cry for peace and love for her motherland written all over her music.

Fans are familiar with the various themes of injustice and oppression that drive her music and performances.

"If you listen to my music, I do have a lot to do, issues that are very delicate to the Nigerian ear, talking about our politics at present, or the corruption, or the oil exploitation in the Niger Delta," said the singer who is from the troubled region.

Read more about the situation in the Niger Delta

Nneka equates her time away from Nigeria as a "personal pilgrimage," one which led her to an accidental musical career, something she admits she "slipped into."

"It used to be something I did as a kind of a therapy especially when I was living in Germany and never had anything to do with this part of my heritage," she said.

Getting to know a society with "a totally different mentality" forced her to discover her passion. "That is how music found me, or the other way round," she told CNN.

With her growing universal appeal, Nneka has now assumed the responsibility of a continent on her tiny shoulders.

"I see myself having a voice that would represent the people who do not have the courage to speak their minds or to allow the world outside to see and recognize what is happening within Nigeria, within Africa," she said.

However, she knows change isn't immediate but it is coming -- if we all play our part. "I see light," she says. "As long as we are part of the change that we want, then things will change."

Agnes Teh contributed to this article