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Song Reflection: Book of Job – Nneka

Song Reflection: Book of Job – Nneka

‘Cause when we lie we love

When we die we love

When we suffer we love

‘Cause when we die we love

bookofjobnnekaimage.png

The song I will reflect on here is one that I first heard approximately a year ago when I discovered Nneka for the first time (yes I’m a decade or so behind…). In the past few months I placed it on repeat in my Spotify playlist.

The song is the “Book of Job” by Nigerian-German singer-songwriter Nneka. This reflection seeks to consider its exploration of the human condition and the psychological and spiritual resonances it invokes as a result through its lyrics.

The song and its context

Nneka Lucia Egbuna, ‘Nneka’, was born and lived in Nigeria before moving to Germany for her university studies in anthropology. It was during these university years that she began to explore her creativity through music. Releasing five albums between 2005 and 2015, she has since experienced international success.

Her music asks spiritual questions, explores social and environmental justice concerns with a strong political charge, aligns itself with freedom fighters and activists, calls for unity in Nigeria, and is unapologetically emotional.

Her music can be considered neo soul, a genre that intersects the histories, cultures and musical traditions of Africans, African Americans and black diasporan communities globally in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to produce a new sound and mediate diasporic conversations. She mixes original soul, African American and African musical genres, sings in English and Igbo, and in doing so draws her culture into global Afro community conversation and demonstrates her values of justice and unity.

The song “Book of Job” is a viral single from Nneka’s fifth and latest album “My Fairy Tales”. The album emerged during Nneka’s time studying in Paris and was recorded and produced across France, Denmark and Nigeria. Across its nine tracks, it explores the struggles and injustices faced by African diaspora, the significance of culture, education, identity, love, the current state of humanity and responsibility to children. Grounding itself within a roots reggae aesthetic, it intersects with Afro-groove highlife, soul, funk and various African musical genres, drum loops and samples.

Like her other albums, there is rawness to its sound, and its lyrics are reflective. Both the album name and cover imagery attempt to make its weighty subject matter lighter; however, this cover imagery hints at a tarnished innocence, which certainly is present within its lyrics. Given its shared tone and some shared themes, the song is aptly placed after the track “Pray for You” which addresses terrorist group Boko Haram.

The human condition – love intersects with suffering

Throughout the song, its lyrics suggest that the human condition is to face challenges, to experience suffering, and to die. For example, the lyrics “storms”, “distress”, “despair”, “suffering”, “corruption”, “stones”, “trials” and “tribulations”, with financial struggle being given explicit mention “No money in the pocket to be”, and the refrain “when we die”. This language bears a resemblance to the language used in many English translations of various biblical psalms and passages, while these quite generic references assist diverse listeners to connect with the songs’ protagonist and empathise with its message. The use of “we” and unquestioned acceptance of these sufferings within the lyrics posit them as a part of the human condition.

However, despite these sufferings, the lyrics suggest that an attempt to live a just life, and failure to do so, is also a part of the human condition. For example, “Never stop to take the short cut / Though it might be easier for me / Whenever a thought that is as such”, “never be bandits”, and the refrain “when we lie.” The lyrics refer to corruption as a challenge, and in the songs’ official video clip contemporary contemporary urban landscapes are prominent. 

Together, this suggests an attempt to live a just life within a contemporary urban context filled with social injustices. In this, we find psychological resonance, with the song seemingly suggesting that the human condition impels us to attempt to live a just life, despite our failure to do so and the challenges faced and sufferings experienced.

Lastly, its lyrics suggest that the human condition is to love despite, in the face of, and concurrent with, these sufferings and our failures. For example, in moments of failure to live a just life “when we lie we love”, when faced with challenges “when we die we love”, or when experiencing sufferings “when we suffer we love”.

In the song exploring the human condition through how love intersects with suffering, it presents it to be a psychological grapple with the tension of inevitable struggle, failure and death while concurrently loving and seeking to live a just life.

The human condition – in the face of suffering, faith is affirmed

This theme most explicitly holds spiritual resonance within the song. Indeed, arguably, the song can be considered a contemporary psalm of lament, as the protagonist individually “I” and corporately “we” calls out to God in despair, experiences silence in response, and expresses despair as a result, though with hints at affirmations of faith regardless.

The song begins with its strongest affirmation of faith “According to / Psalm 27 / Lord is my light and my salvation / Who shall I fear / Who shall I fear.” The official video clip reinforces this affirmation as the singer follows lines of scripture within a bible during these lines. Affirmations are present in the protagonists’ response to their failure to live a just life, “I go down on my knees / And pray in the morning / No matter what comes on my knees / I will stay I keep beseeching.” 

However, only silence is received in response, leading the protagonist to express despair “Look up da sky and tell me / What is left for us to see”, “Suffering and silence is what we know” and “Just like Job / We suffer in silence.”

Despite this, hints at affirmations of faith remain. Indeed, the song draws upon the biblical figure of Job, listeners could be assured that God will likewise respond and aid the protagonist here. Four ambiguous lines can be interpreted either as an affirmation of faith in God in the face of suffering, or of human solidarity in the face of suffering, “It’s okay / ‘Cause we know / Love will conquer everything / ‘Cause I know that you got me and I got you and it’s okay.”

It is worth additionally noting that while drawing upon biblical allusions, the songs’ lyrics are sufficiently generic to enable theistic believers of other religious contexts to connect and empathise with the protagonist and their spirituality, as an exploration of the human condition.

The human condition – in the face of suffering, human solidarity is affirmed

The interchange between an individual “I” and corporate “we” protagonist is to such an extent within the song that arguably they share the entirety of the experiences explored, although the corporate protagonist is more prominent, especially as seen within the refrain. 

As mentioned already, four ambiguous lines can be interpreted either as affirmations of faith in God in the face of suffering or of human solidarity in the face of suffering, “It’s okay / ‘Cause we know… okay.” These four lines, the prominence of the corporate protagonist, and lyrics such as “No matter what to come my friend / We stand like steel / Even stones will come / And let them” clearly demonstrate the songs’ theme of human solidarity affirmed in the face of suffering.

It is worth noting that the singer physically presents herself in an everyday aesthetic in terms of clothing, hair and makeup, both within the songs’ official video clip and within her live performances of the song. Rather than putting on a unique identity for her performances, she physically presents herself in such a way that she could well be mistaken for one of her listeners or audience. In doing so, she demonstrates solidarity with her audience, in that as she sings this song, it becomes a song of corporate lament.

The song suggests that this solidarity, which holds psychological resonance, is a part of the human condition, in that humanity is drawn together in the face of suffering, and when this occurs, it produces a love that can overcome the sufferings experienced.

Hope in lament

Certainly, this song explores the human condition and in doing so invokes spiritual and psychological resonances. It feels like a song of corporate lament, and yet, hope is felt within that lament. Love intersects with suffering. In the face of suffering, faith is affirmed. In the face of suffering, human solidarity is affirmed. Despite the suffering and pain we experience in our lives, our communities and our shared world, hope is still found and tangibly felt.  

 

Song Lyrics:

Please note that lyrics below have been gathered from various unofficial lyrics websites and edited by myself in an attempt for greater accuracy :)

 

According to

Psalm 27

Lord is my light and my salvation

Who shall I fear

Who shall I fear

 

Look up in da sky and tell me

What is left for us to see

So many mornings that we wake up

No money in the pocket to be

Never stop to take the short cut

Though it might be easier for me

Whenever a thought that is as such

Confronts and recognises me

 

I go down on my knees

And pray in the morning

No matter what comes on my knees

I will stay I keep beseeching

So let the storms come ‘cause I know

That love will conquer everything

‘Cause I know that you got me and I got you

 

‘Cause when we lie we love

When we die we love

When we suffer we love

‘Cause when we die we love

 

Distress and despair are the words of the [unconfirmed lyric] ones

And though they [unconfirmed lyric] the prodigal sons

Suffering and silence is what we know

True revolution is peace

Once everyone crying this plant will grow

And all this corruption will cease

Just like Job

We suffer in silence

Intelligent and I know

Honesty is intelligence

I’m vigilant

It’s okay

‘Cause we know

Love will conquer everything

‘Cause I know that you got me and I got you and it’s okay

 

‘Cause when we lie we love

When we die we love

When we suffer we love

‘Cause when we die we love

 

No matter what to come my friend

We stand like steel

Even stones will come

And let them

Never be bandits

 

‘Cause when we lie we love

When we die we love

When we suffer we love

‘Cause when we die we love

 

‘Cause when we lie we love

When we die we love

True revolution is peace

When we suffer we love

Yeah we love yeah

‘Cause when we die we love

We love we love

 

[unconfirmed lyric] now

Times of trials and tribulations

We will love

No matter when the suffering comes

No matter what we do

Then I will love I will love I will love I will love

I will love

When we die we love

When we suffer

When we suffer 

 

Image Ref:

“VIDEO: Nneka - Book of Job.” Entertainment Redefined. Last modified December 22, 2014. Accessed April 9, 2019. https://www.ent-redefined.org/video-nneka-book-of-job/.

 

Ref (including videos):

“African Singer Nneka’s Fairy Tale.” Focus on Africa. BBC, February 26, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-31637491/african-singer-nneka-on-new-album-my-fairy-tales.

“Discography.” Nneka World. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://www.nnekaworld.com/.

“News.” Nneka World. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://www.nnekaworld.com/.

Adam, Hakeem. “Merging the Personal with the Political: Nneka - ‘My Fairy Tales’ Album Review.” Blog. Dynamic Africa. A Pan-African Cultural Blog with a Contemporary Focus, June 12, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://dynamicafrica.tumblr.com/tagged/hakeem

Bargiela, Sarah. “Nneka - My Fairy Tales Album Review.” Entertainment Focus, March 16, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.entertainment-focus.com/music-section/music-reviews/albums/nneka-my-fairy-tales-album-review/.

Easlea, Daryl. “Nneka Soul Is Heavy Review.” BBC Review, 2012. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/xbcg/.

Fila-Bakabadio, Sarah. “‘Pick Your Afro Daddy’: Neo Soul and the Making of Diasporan Identities.” Cahiers d’Études africaines 54, no. 216 (2014): 919–44.

Nneka - Book of Job (Official Video). YouTube: nnekaworld, 2014. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o13RCkeoaQA.

NNEKA - Live at Uprising Reggae Festival 2016. YouTube: Uprising Festival, 2017. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV8nwFPSP4k.

Nneka LIVE “Book of Job” - My Fairy Tales - Tour 2015 @Jam’in’Berlin. YouTube: DerTagesspiegel, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrzoKwF3nVI.

Oko, Dan. “Nneka Soul Is Heavy (Decon).” The Austin Chronicle, March 16, 2012. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://musiccritic.com/nneka/soul-is-heavy.

Sullivan, Caroline. “Nneka Review - a Charismatic Vision of Social Justice.” The Guardian, April 8, 2015, sec. Culture - Music - Pop and rock. Accessed March 17, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/apr/08/nneka-review-egbuna-village-underground-london

Williams, Precious. “Biographie.” Nneka World. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://www.nnekaworld.com/.

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