Acclaimed East African vocalist and songwriter Somi will perform at AAI’s Future Leaders Legacy Fund on Tuesday, September 29, at 583 Park Avenue in New York City.
Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, Somi’s music reflects her dual heritage and is influenced by both African and Jazz music. Often referred to as a modern-day Miriam Makeba, JazzTimes magazine describes her live performance as “the earthy gutsiness of Nina Simone blended with the vocal beauty of Dianne Reeves,” while Billboard exclaims that she’s “all elegance and awe…utterly captivating.”
In late 2011, Somi relocated from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria where she drew inspiration from the city’s vibe on her latest album, “The Lagos Music Salon”, which was released in August 2014 on Sony Music/Okeh. The album, which ranked #1 album on US Jazz charts, featured special guests Angelique Kidjo, Common and Ambrose Akinmusire.
As her career has taken off, Somi’s talents have been called upon for collaborations and live performances alongside a diverse cast of artists including Mos Def, Baaba Maal, John Legend, Billy Childs, Paul Simon, Danilo Perez, Idan Raichel, Jennifer Hudson and many more.
A two-time recipient of The Doris Duke Foundation’s French-American Jazz Exchange Composers’ Grant, Somi began an exploration of African & Arab jazz traditions with acclaimed French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf while studying the role of the female voice during the Arab Spring protests. That body of work recently premiered at The Kennedy Center’s 2014 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival. She is currently working on a jazz opera about the life and legacy of South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba.
Widely acknowledged as both artist and scholar, Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow and a 2013 Park Avenue Armory Artist-in-Residence. She is the founder of New Africa Live, a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the very best of contemporary African artists working in the performance, visual, and literary arts.
In 2014, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited Somi to perform at the United Nations’ General Assembly in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.