Grammy-nominated jazz singer Somi will make her Carnegie Hall debut in November
Somi is gearing up to make her Carnegie Hall debut with her own band on November 18. This highly anticipated debut gig will deliver a transatlantic blend of modern jazz, soul and African pop, featuring Somi’s featured tribute to the great “Mama Africa” on Zenzile. This Zankel Hall-exclusive show in famed Carnegie Hall features new electro-acoustic chamber arrangements by Zenzile alongside a lush retrospective of Somi’s most beloved repertoire. For more information about this performance, including tickets, see here.
Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY nominated singer Somi has made several illustrious and refreshing musical statements over the past year. In March, she released her album Zenzile: The Reimagination Of Miriam Makeba, a celebration of the late South African civil rights activist and singer Miriam Makeba. A remarkable demonstration of Somi’s allegiance to his avant-garde role model, Zenzile captivated listeners while introducing many to Makeba’s rich life and legacy. Somi’s allegiance to the South African icon continued last spring when she starred in the Off-Broadway production of Dreaming Zenzile, an original musical written by Somi that highlights the hard-hitting musical contributions and Makeba’s social justice career, at the New York Theater Workshop.
At Carnegie Hall, Somi will be joined by a stellar cast of New York jazz musicians, including violinists Mazz Swift and Dana Lyn, violist Cameren Anai, cellist Dara Hankins, drummer Otis Brown III, pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Michael Olatuja and saxophonist Myron Walden.
The Grammy-nominated daughter of Ugandan and Rwandan immigrants has “the earthy courage of Nina Simone mixed with the vocal beauty of Dianne Reeves” (JazzTimes). Closely mentored by the great Hugh Masekela, Somi forged her own path as an artist, cultural worker and scholar.
Since releasing her record in March, Somi has inspired listeners to delve deeper into Makeba’s rich heritage. Somi’s work has been highlighted by national outlets such as Forbes and Downbeat Magazine as well as The Washington Post, where journalist Shannon J. Effinger highlights Somi’s powerful approach to augmenting part of the story that has otherwise been muted in an illuminating and far-reaching article. .
“Through these works, Somi not only reclaims Makeba’s first name (“Zenzile”), but also skillfully gives voice to what is left unsaid, the internal struggle that Makeba might never be able to express in his personality. public,” writes Effinger.
Somi released Zenzile on his own label, Salon Africana, on March 4, 2022, which would have been Makeba’s 90th birthday. Featuring his renditions of some of Makeba’s best-known songs, both compositions and Makeba covers, Somi regards Zenzile as a tribute to the late African pioneer.
“This album is my attempt to honor the unapologetic voice of an African woman that inevitably gave way to my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do,” shares the singer.
Considered one of Africa’s first international superstars, Makeba (whose first name is ‘Zenzile’) lifted the spirits of a continent, including her native South Africa. Her courage, however, was met with three decades of political exile from her native country, followed by a blacklist in the United States after her marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. Somi’s love for music and Makeba’s personal strength has led to a record that she hopes will inspire a rediscovery of Makeba’s life and work.
In recognition of Makeba’s resonance across Africa and the Diaspora, Somi invited a number of special guests to perform on the record. From South Africa, GRAMMY-winning male vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singer-songwriter Msaki, singer and activist Thandiswa Mazwai and jazz pianist-songwriter Nduduzo Makhathini join Somi for the tribute. Other guests include American GRAMMY-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter, Nigerian singer-musician Seun Kuti (youngest son of Fela Kuti) and GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter and activist, Angelique Kidjo.
Dreaming Zenzile, Somi’s original play based on the life of Makeba under the direction of 2022 Tony nominee Lileanna Blain-Cruz, originally premiered in September 2021 to kick off the 21-22 theatrical season at the Repertory Theater of Saint-Louis (The representative). The world premiere production included stints at the McCarter Theater in Princeton and ArtsEmerson in Boston, culminating in an off-Broadway stint in New York this summer. The moving production featured a live jazz band playing original music and reinterpretations of Makeba’s remarkable catalog while telling the story of his extraordinary life journey.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SOMI
Somi Kakoma is a singer, songwriter, playwright and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan origin. She has released seven acclaimed albums, scoring positions on the World Music, Jazz and Heatseekers charts. Somi’s previous records have featured guests such as Common, Angelique Kidjo and renowned South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who became his longtime mentor. She has been widely honored as a Soros Equality Fellow, TED Senior Fellow, USA Doris Duke Fellow, 2021 Grammy nominee, and recipient of two NAACP Image Awards. She performed at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews and Vusi Mahlesela to celebrate South African democracy and was invited by the UN Secretary General to perform in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of victims of slavery. Somi is the founder of Salon Africana, a boutique talent agency and label for contemporary African musicians and writers. She holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology and African studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master’s degree in performance studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in creative practice and critical inquiry at Harvard University. www.somimusic.com
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall is located at 881 7th Ave, New York, NY.
Photo credit: Tatenda Chidora