Tuesday March 28, 2017
Somi – Petite Afrique (OKeh, 3/31)
By: Phil Freeman
Vocalist Somi was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. Petite Afrique is her sixth album, her second for Sony’s revived OKeh label. The music blends subtle, Sade-ish R&B with swing, harder funk, and West African pop, and the lyrics address issues of immigration, assimilation, and gentrification. “The Gentry,” a duet with Aloe Blacc, addresses the way African immigrants in Harlem are being pushed out by new, richer residents. “Alien,” meanwhile, flips Sting’s “Englishman In New York” in a witty and perceptive way. Somi’s voice is smooth and supple, gliding across the arrangements laid down by a very impressive band: Liberty Ellman on guitar, Toru Dodo on piano, Michael Olatuja on bass, and Nate Smith on drums, with occasional contributions from tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and trumpeter Etienne Charles. A few tracks also feature strings. It’s a beautiful record that’ll give people who pay attention to lyrics (I’m not typically one of them) a lot to think about.