NEW AFRICAN JAZZ
Somi, "Petite Afrique" (Okeh)
I don't know that jazz singing gets more personal than this.
"New African Jazz" is what Somi calls her music which combines jazz, folk music, African music, R&B and pop music. She is a beautiful young American woman whose mother is from Uganda and whose father is from Rwanda. She lives now in a neighborhood familiar to emigres from "The African Diaspora." As the publicity says "in the village of Harlem, along West 116th Street from Malcolm X Boulevard to Frederick Douglass Boulevard, African immigrants build American lives. ... This is a strip of Harlem that locals call 'Little Africa' or 'Petite Afrique': a thriving corridor of hair shops and shea butters, bistros and self-taught tailors."
Here are the lyrics to Somi's song with Etieenne Charles "The Gentry" sung with Aloe Blacc: "The gentry came/I can't play drums no more/Said that's not what their good money's for/The gentry came.....The gentry came now I might lose my home/And every soul that I've ever known/ The gentry came."
In "Alien" she adapts Sting's song "Englishman in New York" and sings "I'm an African in New York/See me walking down One Sixteen...There's pride and beauty in my walk/I'm an African in New York./I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien/They always ask me where I'm from/Is it that sad place that's in the news?/And is that the reason why I've come?" Another song asks "Am I black enough for you/I don't talk the way you do?/You call me names and try to hurt me/Spit on the ground,/hopin' to curse me."
The paradox of Somi's music is that the sound of her voice is as beautiful as she is. Think of her voice as in the neighborhood of Sade or Norah Jones, and the message within both unique to her and applicable to the America we now live in.
3 1/2 stars (out of four)