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By Steven Nalley
One night, Nelson "Nelly" Emokpae was approached by a woman who complimented him on his musical performance.
Emokpae said the woman was slightly inebriated, but friendly, telling him his music was relaxing. He said she noticed his accent and asked him where he was from. When he told her he was from Nigeria, Emokpae said, he got an unexpected response.
"She said, 'It sounds like African elevator music,'" Emokpae said. But, his music aspires to something much greater.
Emokpae, a singer, songwriter and guitarist who performs under the name "Nelly's Echo," tells in his songs the story of his journey from Nigerian refugee to U.S. musician. He is bringing that story to the Colvard Student Union Dawghouse at Mississippi State University on Tuesday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Emokpae's website says his story is so long and complex that music is the best way to tell it in detail. However, Emokpae said he was willing to make a long story short:
"My family and I came from Nigeria to America a number of years ago because of circumstances beyond our control," Emokpae said. "We were political refugees. Experiencing differences in culture, differences in weather, differences in music, differences in food, differences in everything, it was a culture shock, but because we were young, it was easier for us to adjust."
That multi-cultural background has resulted in music that blends multiple genres, and Emokpae said it had appeal across races, cultures and genders as a result.
"It sounds like everything you've heard but nothing you've heard at the same time," Emokpae said. "It is what it is. Sometimes it could be rock, sometimes it could be reggae, sometimes it could be pop, but it is me."
Jackie Mullen, a student on the Campus Activities Board, said the board decided to bring Emokpae to MSU after seeing him at a National Association of Campus Activities conference back in October.
"He performed, and the students went crazy," Mullen said. "He has a really great voice, and was really engaging the audience. He provides a variety of genres of music, and he appeals to a lot of different kinds of people."
Another student on the board, Jalesa Parks, arranged for Emokpae's visit. She said his music pulled from a number of influences and was full of surprises.
"He just goes all kinds of ways I didn't expect," Parks said. "I was expecting blues and R&B...I thought he was pretty awesome."
Parks also said one of her favorite songs couples his life story with a strong message.
"He has a song entitled 'If I Were King,' and it's about all the different things that have happened in his life, and basically how he would change the world," Parks said.
Emokpae said music and storytelling inherently fit together, even in such other media as stage musicals and films with strong soundtracks. Because of this, he can use his music to send audiences a message, he said.
"I know I have a positive message, a message of life and hope and joy, and I want to use music to spread that," Emokpae said.
He said he had never been to Starkville or Mississippi, and he was looking forward to visiting.
"I hear it has a lot of history and culture," Emokpae said, "so I'm looking forward to it."