Though she won a 2018 NAACP Award for Outstanding Jazz Album for her second major release Petit Afrique, you may not know much about Somi. Hailed by The Huffington Post as the “new Nina Simone,” Somi Kakoma is a singer, songwriter, and producer born in Champaign, Illinois on June 6, 1981, and is of Rwandan and Ugandan descent.
Her family was in Illinois due to her father completing his post-graduate education at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. At the age of 3, her family moved to Ndola, Zambia. She returned to Champaign, Illinois when her father became a professor at the above-mentioned university.
Somi completed her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Illinois and earned her Master’s in Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
In 2007, Somi’s independent album Red Soil in My Eyes was licensed to Harmonia Mundi/World Village; this caused her to gain critical praise with her single Ingele maintaining a top 10 position on the U.S. World Music Charts for a number of months.
In 2009 she signed with the independent record label ObliqSound and her album If The Rains Come First debuted at number 2 on the Billboard Magazine’s World Music Chart and number 21 on the Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart.
Her first live concert album, Somi: Live at Jazz Standard was released on Palmetto Records in 2011. Similarly, in 2011, Somi was named a TED Fellow and inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow.
In 2013 Somi signed with Sony Music under their relaunched jazz imprint with Okeh Records and debuted her initial major album named The Lagos Music Salon inspired by her 18-month stay in the West African city of Nigeria. Not surprisingly, the album debuted at number one on the U.S. Jazz Charts.
Next, in 2017, Somi released her second major album christened Petit Afrique and it tells the story of the West African immigrant population in Harlem, NY being negatively affected by gentrification.
Apart from being talented and educated, she’s also the founder of a non-profit organization called New Africa Live. Now that’s what we call multi-faceted.
Watch the making of her award-winning album Petit Afrique below.