Sunday, August 9, 2020


Acclaimed vocalist and songwriter Somi was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda, and has built a career of transatlantic storytelling. Her last album Petite Afrique is a daring, relevant, refashioning of what “jazz” and “African music” mean — both singularly and to each other. The album, which tells the story of African immigrants in the midst of a gentrified Harlem in New York City, won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album and features special guest Aloe Blacc. Petite Afrique is the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi’s 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 and international 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!” 

Closely mentored by the legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela, Somi’s live performance was described by JazzTimes magazine 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.”

Recently named a 2019 Sundance Theater Fellow, Somi has written an original play called “Dreaming Zenzile” about legendary South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba that will premiere in Spring 2020 before eventually landing in New York City as the inaugural production of the legendary Apollo Theater’s new Off-Broadway theater in 2021. Her new album, also about Makeba, will be released in Summer 2020.

Somi is a Soros Equality Fellow, a USA Doris Duke Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, and a former artist-in-residence at Park Avenue Armory, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Baryshnikov Arts Center and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. She is also the founder of Salon Africana, a boutique art and production house that celebrates the very best of African artists working in the performance and literary arts. Often celebrated for her activism, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon 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. She was also invited to perform at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews, and Vusi Mahlesela in celebration of South African democracy. Somi will return to Carnegie Hall with her own band in Spring 2021 as part of their inaugural Voices of Hope Festival that features a program of artists who use their music to raise awareness around social issues. She and her band continue to perform at festivals and venues around the globe. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.