Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, acclaimed vocalist & songwriter Somi has built a career of transatlantic sonicism and storytelling. Petite Afrique Somi’s sophomore effort for Sony Music, is a daring, relevant, refashioning of what “jazz” and “African music” mean – both singularly and to each other. The album which was tells the story of African immigrants in the midst of a gentrified Harlem, New York, which won a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album and features special guest Aloe Blacc, is a timely Petite Afrique is the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi’s last chart-topping album and major label debut The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria and features special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common landed at #1 on US Jazz charts. Both albums straddle the worlds of African jazz, soul, and pop with a newfound ease and a voice that Vogue Magazine simply calls “Superb!”
Often referred to as a modern-day Miriam Makeba, JazzTimes magazine describes her live performance as “the earthy gutsiness of Nina Simone blended with the vocal beauty of Dianne Reeves,” while Billboard exclaims that she’s “all elegance and awe…utterly captivating.”
The Lagos Music Salon is a highly anticipated follow up to the young singer’s last studio album, If The Rains Come First (ObliqSound) – a stunning collection of self penned story-based songs which debuted at #2 on the Billboard World Chart, and featured her long-time mentor & legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela. The Boston Globe proclaims the album “is a sustained triumph displaying rich musicality, a sharp pop sense, and rare sophistication” while The Huffington Post dubbed the young singer “the New Nina Simone.” Singing in English and a wide range of African languages, her artistic evolution is indisputable. As her career has taken off, Somi’s talents have been called upon for collaborations and live performances alongside a diverse cast of artists including Mos Def, Baaba Maal, John Legend, Billy Childs, Paul Simon, Danilo Perez, Idan Raichel, Jennifer Hudson and many more.
In 2011, Somi released her first live album of performances at the venerable Jazz Standard in New York City. The result of which JazzTimes hailed as “stunning…natural fervor and naked magnificence.” A two-time recipient of The Doris Duke Foundation’s French-American Jazz Exchange Composers’ Grant, Somi began an exploration of African & Arab jazz traditions alongside acclaimed French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf while investigating the role of the female voice during the Arab Spring protests. That body of work premiered at The Kennedy Center’s 2014 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival. She just finished recording her new album which will be released in Spring 2017. She is also developing an original jazz opera about the life and legacy of South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba.
Somi is a 2018 USA Doris Duke Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, a former Artist-in-Residence at Park Avenue Armory, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Baryshnikov Arts Center. She is also the founder of New Africa Live, a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the very best of contemporary African artists working in the performance, visual, and literary arts. Also celebrated for her activism, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently asked Somi to perform at the United Nations’ General Assembly in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Last year, she was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews, and Vusi Mahlesela in celebration of 20 years of South African democracy.
Somi and her band continue to perform at international venues and stages around the world. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.