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To Another Place: Somi Takes Her Sound to a New Level

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Sunday November 15, 2009

From The Boston Globe

To Another Place: Somi Takes Her Sound to a New Level
By: Siddhartha Mitter

Somi’s new album, “If the Rains Come First,’’ glistens with the sheen of an almost impossibly perfect cosmopolitanism, but that shouldn’t be held against her.

It could hardly be otherwise. Recorded in Paris and New York, with a group that includes a Senegalese guitarist, Hervé Samb, a Japanese pianist, Toru Dodo, and a British-Nigerian bassist, Michael Olatuja, this subtle, rhythmically taut gem of an album documents global nomads sharing personal as well as musical experiences.

Centering the frame is Somi, daughter of Rwandese and Ugandan parents, raised in a Midwest college town, and now based in New York, who writes lyrics full of poetic intimacy in English laced with Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Rutoro. Her quiet feel and indeterminate allure have prompted comparisons to Cassandra Wilson and Sade.

A better indicator of Somi’s reference points may be the appearance, on the beautiful track “Enganjyani,’’ of the great South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela – one who knows a bit about melding jazz and African material to great emotional effect.

For Somi, whose full name is L. Kabasomi Kakoma and who plays at Scullers on Wednesday, this album represents the latest stage on a journey of exploration that she traces all the way to her childhood, and beyond the scope of music alone.

“I was always preoccupied with the cultural side of myself,’’ she says on the phone from her parents’ home in Champaign, Ill., where she spent her childhood. “I felt as though I wasn’t really from here. In high school I felt cheated.’’

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