It’s been 16 years since Nuwamba’s first studio album, Above water, immediately attracted international attention. In 2005, the neo-soul and R&B artist arrived on the Billboard Top 100 and part of MTV. He even remembers seeing his picture in Top of the line magazine next to Rihanna’s, when her career was just beginning to take off.
In November 2021, after seven years of working on a new project, Nuwamba released their second album. love ase, which translates from the African language of Kwa as “Love so be it”. During the 16-year gap between her two albums, Nuwamba embarked on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. During this time he was introduced to the ancient African religion of the Yoruba people, and he wanted to incorporate the culture that is now part of his daily life into the title of the album.
love ase features traditional talent production in the form of Chad C-Note Roper and Madukwu Chinwah. C-Note has worked with superstars such as Rihanna, Gucci Mane and Usher, and Madukwu is a multi-talented Dallas native music maker who won a Grammy Award for his production on Erykah Badu. Baduzim.
Many critics weren’t sure if Nuwamba still had the ability within him to create more timeless music and even take the next step as the music industry evolved, he says. Nuwamba says he felt stuck in the industry transition, having lost thousands of Myspace subscribers when the site became irrelevant and streaming platforms such as Spotify and iTunes were able to control the how most music is now distributed.
While neo-soul and R&B still thrive in other countries, they no longer receive the same attention in the United States as they once did. But the international recognition that love ase received is not small. Nuwamba and the album were praised in numerous articles; some are in English and some are not. Songs from the album received rotation on South American and African radio stations, and love ase passed the first set of reviews for the 2021 Grammy Awards, though it didn’t make the final cut for a nomination.
There are many accolades under Nuwamba’s belt. He reached professional heights that only a handful of North Texas artists in any genre have — without a recording contract and during the pre-streaming social media era. Nuwamba says he turned down a two-album recording deal from Warner Bros in 2005 after Above water was released because he didn’t agree with the change in direction he saw in the major labels and the type of soul and R&B they wanted from artists.
“I want people to understand the problems independent artists face,” Nuwamba says. “All this glamorous bullshit, I want people to see this is not a walk in the park.”
Nuwamba faced many challenges head-on, even before Aabove water has been freed. Although Nuwamba was able to avoid being completely immersed in street life growing up, he was shot while attending high school and arrested by Fort Worth police while recording the album.
The time lapse between the two albums came with its own set of hurdles, so many that Nuwamba considered not making any more music.
“I was going through a lot of emotional issues like depression, and I needed to really settle down and find myself,” he says. “When I was able to do that, things started to happen again. Lots of success and people who loved the first album could tell it was back. Now my job is to maintain these relationships now, and I want to apologize to them for waiting so long.
But Madukwu says he wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Nuwamba was back in the studio to work on his second release. Madukwu began working with the singer in the 90s, and he later performed instrumental work for Above water.
“Seasoned artists always seem to be working on something new,” says Madukwu. “It’s like a high that you get from being in the studio and staying there. Standing still is letting a song die somewhere on a hard drive. He keeps his old ideas like me, and we put them up to date, and then we represent them. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
“I want people to understand the issues independent artists have… All this glamorous bullshit, I want people to see it’s not a walk in the park.” – Nuwamba
This year, Nuwamba performed at SXSW and has a series of shows scheduled for this summer. He will perform on July 17 at the Neo Soul Festival in Washington, on July 30 at Club Dada in Dallas and on August 6 at the African American Heritage Festival in Washington.
Nuwamba says all the songs on love ase come from his real life experiences. The album also contains a verse by Dallas Observer Music Prize winner Rakim Al-Jabbaar, a late addition to the ‘I Was Wrong’ record, which already included rapper Lex Lu. The song is about admitting your own mistakes in a relationship and fixing them.
Al-Jabbaar says his relationship with Nuwamba began naturally during a conversation about African spirituality while at the studio of Dallas producer Mousequake, who has been involved in productions with Nas, Lil Wayne and UGK. Al-Jabbaar says working with Nuwamba was special because of Nuwamba’s meticulous work ethic and the type of music he chooses to release to the world.
“We live in a time where a lot of people aren’t making soulful music and a lot of people aren’t talking about love or the abundance of love,” Al-Jabbaar says. “Most of the music these days is about a lack of love and an abundance of pain and trauma and [Nuwamba] is at the opposite end of this spectrum of the same frequency where it leans more into love.