A few days ago, I received an email with a link to the website of the American jazz musician of African origin, Somi. I found her really intriguing so I wandered further online to find out more.
Somi is an artiste of the floating world. She was born in Illinois, United States, to Ugandan and Rwandan parents. At three, her family moved to Ndola, Zambia. She also spent part of her childhood in Kenya, and again in the United States. As an adult, Somi has travelled widely across continents.
“I remember trips to paris, doha, johannesburg, and kampala, and the perspective those trips gave me each time i returned to lagos,” she wrote in her diary.
The NPR’s Weekend Edition described her as “The quintessential artist citizen of the world.”
She is all about the Jazz. Somi’s primary genre is jazz. “Critics say she has reinvented the musical form with a vibrancy that has recaptured the old flavor of African jazz, while infusing it with an element of new age and soul music,” said the Voice of America in a post titled African Jazz Gets New Voice, while the Deutschland Radio Kultur dubbed her the “The new Nina Simone!”
Her latest album, The Lagos Music Salon, was released in 2014 by Okeh Records imprint of Sony Music, following an 18-month sojourn in Lagos, Nigeria. It is her debut for a major record label, and it featured the hit, Ginger me Slowly. Pop Matters said of the album, “It is a party and a history lesson, it is a manifesto and a poem, it is a call to dance and think at once.”
She has an agenda. While many artistes are covert about using their work to propagate a course, Somi is upfront about the agenda she is pushing. “Somi’s songs gracefully fuse African-tinged grooves, supple jazz singing and compassionate social consciousness,” said the New York Times.
With undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and African Studies from the University of Illinois, Somi has proven to be quite passionate about Africa and has been quoted in Voice of America as saying that “The west has an antiquated perception of what Africa is,” adding that it behoves on African musicians in the West to challenge the stereotypical perceptions of the continent by using the platform that they have to portray a positive image of the Africa.
She is the founder of New Africa Live, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to celebrating contemporary African artists working in the performance, visual, and literary arts.
Somi also speaks out against domestic violence and plans to donate 10 percent of her album sales to the Rwanda Survivors Fund (SURF), to assist women infected with HIV/AIDS during the genocide.
She supports African artistes: there is a segment on her website called, “Africa, I love you”, where she exhibits some African artistes that she supports.
One entry dated 10 July, 2014 reads: Meklit. Singer/Songwriter. Ethiopian. Lives in San Francisco. This gorgeous songbird has a new album out called “We Are Alive” (Six Degrees). My favorite songs on it so far are “In Sleep” and “Kemekem (I Like Your Afro)”, but there’s so much more to discover in her voice, her lyrics, and even her older recordings. I believe it was a music critic in the Bay area who said Meklit sounds like “if Joni Mitchell were East African, sang duets with Norah Jones and met Nina Simone for tea in San Francisco.” ♥ www.meklitmusic.com
And another of 29 August, 2014 reads: Kwabs. Singer/Songwriter. Ghanaian. Lives in London. Kwabs is new to me. I watched this live version of his original “Last Stand” a couple of months ago and was immediately taken by the deep earth and sweetness that equally rest inside of his voice. Looking forward to hearing more from him. ♥ kwabsmusic.com
She shares about her life: Somi also keeps a diary online. In a post, she talks about being heartbroken on her birthday, “not over some disenchanted fleeting romance, but over so many other things – deeper things: the loss of my dear father, some friends, and ultimately my inspiration. i felt devastatingly lonely in a megalopolis that i’d called home for over a decade. it was on that day – as i cried instead of celebrated – that i knew i had to change something, to do something almost radical, shake things up in my life.” There are many interesting tales to read, if you can endure the lack of capitalisation.
On her website, there is a picture gallery. You will notice that some aspects of the photographs, like her hairstyle, remain constant. Throughout, she wears long, sometimes curly, dread locks styled in a bun, ponytail, or just cascading along one side of her face.
Watch the video for ‘Ginger Me Slowly’ below: