Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, acclaimed vocalist and songwriter Somi has built a career of transatlantic sonicism and storytelling. Petite Afrique, Somi’s sophomore effort for Sony Music’s historic OKeh Records, is a daring, relevant, refashioning of what “jazz” and “African music” mean – both singularly and to each other. The album, which won a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album and features special guest Aloe Blacc, is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants in the United States. Equally anthropologist and writer, Somi’s songs both celebrate Harlem’s black experience and lament gentrification’s slow erasure of the vibrant African immigrant population from the historic neighborhood. Petite Afrique is the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi’s last chart-topping album and major label debut entitled The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria and landed at #1 on US Jazz charts. The album, which features special guests Angelique Kidjo, and Common, draws it material from the tropical city’s boastful cosmopolitanism, urgent inspiration, and giant spirit. Somi continues to craft a fiercely original way of songmaking that straddles the worlds of African jazz, soul, and pop with a newfound ease and a voice that Vogue Magazine simply calls “Superb!”
The Boston Globe proclaims that Somi’s latest work “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.
Mentored by the great Hugh Masekela, Somi is known for bother her artistry and her activism. She is a 2018 Doris Duke USA Fellow, a 2018 Soros Equality Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, and former Artist-in-Residence at Park Avenue Armory, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Currently, Somi is developing a modern jazz play that she wrote about legendary singer-activist Miriam Makeba that will premiere in 2019. She lives between Harlem, USA and Kigali, Rwanda.