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Somi's 'Petite Afrique': An African In New York

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Thursday June 01, 2017

From The Root

An African in New York: Jazz Singer Somi’s Petite Afrique
By: Maiysha Kai

My tea leaves steep as I wait for Somi in Silvana, a café and live-music venue on 116th Street in Harlem, just off Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The singer-songwriter—who has topped both jazz and world music charts whilst being compared to the inimitable Nina Simone—is running late. Looking about, I’m struck that despite over a decade of our co-existing as up-and-coming chanteuses in New York (with about 100 mutual Facebook friends), our introduction was only about a year before, in this same café. At the time, she was composing songs for her recently released fifth album, Petite Afrique.

But ironically, the first time I saw Somi perform wasn’t in New York. It was in our shared home state, on a blustery March evening at the Promontory in Chicago. I’d been invited by my friend, renowned drummer Otis Brown III, a staple in her band.

“I think she’s amazing,” he’d said.

Amazed I was, as she opened her set with a mesmerizing cover of Sting’s reggae-tinged rumination on being a foreigner in a foreign land. Somi’s reworking is more like an incantation, her voice hypnotically rising and falling as she evokes the senses, struggles and often subversive beauty of “otherness” in America.

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