Petite Afrique is a song cycle inspired by the vibrant African immigrant community that has become a vital part of Harlem’s cultural dimension – and to New York City as a whole. The historic uptown neighborhood fondly boasts of West 116th Street as “Little Africa”, where passers-by can find ornate traditional fabrics, Francophone bibles, palm oil and tribes of fast-fingered hair braiders, or the city’s best Senegalese fare.
The songs are based on a myriad of conversations with diverse members of the Harlem community reflecting on themes of transnationalism, cultural difference and assimilation. The lyrics are stories about people from Africa coming to Harlem and how Harlem changed them and at the same time they changed Harlem.
Framed by small ensemble arrangements that blend modern jazz, African music and the singer-songwriter tradition, Petite Afrique is an amalgamation of the musical and cultural worlds that most deeply resonate with who Somi is as an African and American woman, while drawing on her training as a vocalist, jazz musician, songwriter, cultural anthropologist, and proud Harlemite.
Co-produced by Somi and Keith Witty, with whom she as well worked on the critically acclaimed The Lagos Music Salon, the new album features special guests Aloe Blacc and Marcus Strickland as well as, among others, band members Liberty Ellman, Michael Olatuja, Nate Smith and Toru Dodo.
Get Petite Afrique:
1. Disappearing Act I
3. Black Enough
4. The Wild One
5. They’re Like Ghost
6. The Gentry (feat. Aloe Blacc)
7. Kadiatou The Beautiful
8. Holy Room
9. Disappearing Act II
10. Let Me
12. Go Back to Your Country (Interlude)
13. Like Dakar
14. Midnight Angels
Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, African and Jazz legacies are always crucial to Somi’s sound. 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.”
A two-time recipient of The Doris Duke Foundation’s French-American Jazz Exchange Composers’ Grant, Somi began an exploration of African and Arab jazz traditions alongside acclaimed French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf while investigating the role of the female voice during the Arab Spring protests.
Widely acknowledged as both artist and scholar, Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, as well as an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow. She is also 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. Last year, she was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews, and Vusi Mahlesela in celebration of 20 years of South African democracy.
Somi and her band continue to perform at international venues and stages around the world. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.