Petite Afrique, the new album from superb jazz chanteuse Somi, is a song cycle inspired by the vibrant African immigrant community that has become a vital part of Harlem’s cultural dimension and to New York City as a whole. The historic uptown neighborhood fondly boasts of West 116th Street as “Little Africa,” where passersby can find any number of African immigrant shops selling a vast array of products and food. Over the last decade, gentrification has crept deeper into Harlem, pushing the African immigrants out. With Petite Afrique, Somi ensures that the stories and struggles of New York City’s largest African community do not disappear without having ever been told. The songs on the album are based on Somi’s conversations with diverse members of the Harlem community reflecting on themes of transnationalism, cultural difference, assimilation and gentrification. Blending modern jazz, African music and the singer-songwriter tradition, Petite Afrique is an amalgamation of the musical and cultural worlds that resonate with Somi as an African AND American woman and a proud Harlemite.
Born in Illinois, the daughter of immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda, Somi is a TED Global Fellow and also the founder of the New Africa Live nonprofit that champions African artists. For the last decade Somi has carved out a career of singing and being an activist.