Somi at Sochi Jazz Festival in 2016.
|Born||June 6, 1981|
Champaign, Illinois, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, musician, producer|
|Labels||Sony Music, Sony Masterworks, Okeh, Harmonia Mundia|
Somi was born in Champaign, Illinois, while her father was completing post-doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. When Somi was three years old, her family then moved to Ndola, Zambia, while her father worked for the World Health Organization. In the late 1980s when her father became a professor at the University of Illinois, they returned to Champaign, where Somi spent the rest of her childhood. She attended both University Laboratory High School and Champaign Central High School, and earned her undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and African Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She also holds a Master's degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in Performance Studies.
Somi has built her career while developing an original and hybrid sound she coined as "New African Jazz." In 2007, she licensed her independently recorded album Red Soil In My Eyes to the Harmonia Mundi/World Village label for her first international distribution deal. The record received wide critical acclaim with the hit single "Ingele" that maintained a Top 10 position on U.S. World Music Charts for several months.
In 2009, Somi signed with independent record label ObliqSound. Her label debut If The Rains Come First was released in North America on October 27, 2009, and subsequently debuted at no. 2 on Billboard Magazine′s World Music Chart and no. 21 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart. The album features South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Somi's long-time mentor, as a guest on one track. In March 2011, Somi recorded her first live concert album at the legendary Jazz Standard in New York City. It was released on Palmetto Records in August 2011.
In 2013, Somi signed her first major label deal with Sony Music to become one of the first artists on their relaunched historic jazz imprint Okeh Records. Her album and major label debut The Lagos Music Salon, which features Grammy-winning special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common and debuted at #1 on US Jazz Charts, was inspired by an 18-month sabbatical she took in Lagos, Nigeria. On the heels of much critical acclaim and a rapidly growing fan base, The Huffington Post and other publications dubbed Somi "the new Nina Simone." In March 2017, she released Petite Afrique as her second album on Okeh Records. The album, which won a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album, is a song cycle about the large West African immigrant community in Harlem, New York City in the face of rapid gentrification. It features special guest Aloe Blacc.
Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, a 2018 United States Artists Fellow, a 2018 Soros Equality Fellow, and an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow. She is also the founder of the award-winning non-profit organization New Africa Live.
Somi currently lives in New York City.
- Eternal Motive (2003)
- Red Soil in My Eyes (2007)
- If The Rain Comes First (2009)
- Somi: Live at Jazz Standard (2011)
- The Lagos Music Salon (2014)
- Petite Afrique (2017)
- "African Jazz Gets New Voice". VOA News. Voice of America. February 28, 2007. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
- "ObliqSound signs vocalist Somi" (Press release). ObliqSound. March 11, 2009. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- Carpenter, Craig (August 1, 2014). "Somi: A New High Priestess of Soul". Huffington Post.