As an American individual of East African descent, residing her adolescence in Champagne, Illinois, the burgeoning artist, Somi, often felt like she resided between a number of realities. Musically, for instance, there was usually a distinction between what she heard at residence and what she encountered exterior her entrance door. And whereas there’s nothing unsuitable with that, per sé, having a foot, so to talk, in two distinct sonic swimming pools does create a novel standpoint for any musician. Extra just lately, Somi has turned that vantage level right into a inventive thesis assertion. It’s grow to be her mission to bridge seemingly disparate elements, to carry them collectively in her songs, in the best way she tells tales and in how she talks concerning the world. For this work, Somi has distinguished herself. To wit, she was just lately nominated each for an NAACP award and a Grammy for her 2020 launch, Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band, which is as a lot an homage to dwell efficiency as it’s an instance of artwork at its highest ambition.
“I’m thrilled,” Somi tells American Songwriter. “I’m grateful to be acknowledged by my friends and the trade on this manner. I feel that, in some ways, due to how this 12 months has been for therefore many artists, together with myself, and simply everybody, how this pandemic has actually impacted us in our work and our manner of constructing a residing and the way we do what we do on stage, it’s been extremely humbling to have one thing to rejoice within the midst of all this.”
The celebration, although, nearly by no means got here to be. Like one thing out of a storybook, Somi hadn’t deliberate to launch the Frankfurt-recorded dwell album in 2020 till the pandemic hit and shut down primarily each different inventive avenue. She’d recorded the set in Germany dwell for a radio station there and, because of this, had the live performance in her again pocket. So, when there weren’t some other choices amidst the shutdown, Somi determined to launch the dwell LP. The resultant Grammy nomination was an actual silver lining in an in any other case tough 12 months. However on the identical time, what Somi likes most concerning the recording is that it was made in entrance of a dwell viewers.
“It jogged my memory of what the dwell stage really provides me as an artist,” she says. “Even listening to the viewers, it was simply as poetic. I needed to share that as a reminder to myself of what makes me really feel most alive and likewise as an providing of gratitude to the audiences who’ve supported me.”
Whereas Somi grew up in Champagne, she additionally went to major faculty in Zambia. Her household extends from Uganda and Rwanda. She is compelled to grasp the African diaspora and to supply her items to those that comprise it. Somi’s father was a reverend, so she additionally grew up within the church, listening to non secular and non secular music, too. Her dad and mom instilled in her a fantastic sense of satisfaction for who she was at an early age and that helped buoy and propel her to grow to be the profitable inventive individual that she is as we speak. She knew her household was totally different from most of these in her neighborhood in Illinois. She knew she was totally different from most people with whom she went to highschool, too. However all of the whereas music was there to information this singular journey.
“There’s nothing else that makes me really feel as alive or as linked,” Somi says. “Once I’m telling tales, after I’m singing, standing on stage, after I’m inside the music, it simply feels good. While you select the trail of an artist, there’s a lot uncertainty. There’s no clear path from level A to level B. We now have to remind ourselves why we’re doing the work. We now have to come back again to that goodness.”
Somi’s dwell report is nominated for Greatest Jazz Vocal Album (she is the primary individual of East African descent to be nominated within the class). For the musician, jazz gives a variety of potentialities. She loves the style, she says, for its metaphorical open thoughts. Jazz explicitly asks the performer to improvise. It requires shifting from mode to mode, solo to solo and thought to thought. Maybe greater than any fashion of music, jazz is malleable, which is ideal for somebody who feels betwixt a lot already.
“It actually mirrors my very own journey as an individual,” she says.
For Somi, whose acclaimed studio LPs embody 2014’s The Lagos Music Salon and 2017’s Petite Afrique, the important thing to bridging the usually compartmentalized sections of her experiences is the artwork of telling tales in her songs. As a teenager, she says, she usually regarded for herself within the tales of others. However as she’s matured, Somi says she’s embraced the facility of her personal creativeness. Now, the tales she tells are contemporary areas that she’s carved out the place she is aware of she belongs. They’re additionally locations she will be able to share with others alongside her manner.
“I like the thought of inviting folks to journey by way of storytelling,” she says.
The musician recorded Holy Room in 2019 in an eighteenth century German opera home in entrance of a big group of ticket holders. It was considered one of a string of gigs for her on a European tour. She was invited as considered one of a handful of overseas artists all year long to carry out with the Frankfurt Radio huge band. On the time, although, what appeared like one other alternative for Somi turned out to be a doubtlessly life-changing occasion. And the album that got here from the efficiency is a lush amalgamation of songs from previous data that showcases Somi’s knack for partaking folks together with her eager mind, brilliant voice and inventive mild. She’s gifted, to make certain. However she doesn’t take direct or sole credit score for these skills. As a substitute, she ideas her cap to her cherished artwork type.
“Music permits me to be all of myself,” Somi says. “It really provides me permission to be all of myself—even the elements of myself that I don’t know but. That’s freedom.”