US-based Rwandan-Ugandan jazz singer and songwriter, Somi, made history when she was announced as one of the nominees for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards.
Born Laura Kabasomi Kakoma, her latest offering “Holy Room” got a nod in the Grammys Best Jazz Vocal Album category, making her the first African woman to be nominated in any of the jazz categories and the first African artist to be nominated for a jazz vocal performance.
Released under her own record label Salon Africana, “Holy Room” was recorded in an 18th-century opera house during a live concert in May 2019 and it features Frankfurt Radio Big Band.
Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the announcement was made virtually in November and Somi says she was “overwhelmed with emotion” when her name was called.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to share that exact moment with my family,” she shared.
The award-winning vocalist says the nomination makes her, as a Black woman, feel acknowledged.
“As a Black woman it makes me feel seen by my colleagues and it reminds me that the journey is never in vain,” Somi said.
She added: “I use the word ‘Black' instead of 'African-American' here because the latter is an identity informed by a very specific experience in the US.
“One that I honour, love, and connect with deeply but would never fully claim simply because of my own heritage and upbringing as a child of immigrants.”
Commenting on the inspiration behind the “Holy Room”, Somi explained: “The album is the result of a performance I did in Germany last year as a guest of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band that was recorded for national broadcast.
"Thankfully, in a time when touring had ceased, I had that recording on hand and decided to release it.
“The music on the recording is mostly from my last two albums - 'Petite Afrique', which was about the African immigrant experience in the U.S., and 'The Lagos Music Salon', which was inspired by my time living in Nigeria.
“The difference with this album, however, is that it offers a glimpse into the rigour and range of live performance. It is also an archive of the wonderful opportunity I had to frame my older songs in the grandeur of big band orchestral arrangements by the brilliant John Beasley, who conducted the concert as well.”
Being born in America in the ’80s, the multifaceted artist has spent a large part life of her life between the US and Africa, including Mzansi.
She said the different cultures have immensely influenced her life and career as a creative.
She shared: “Having the opportunity to spend so much time in so many places has granted me the opportunity to write stories and songs in service of honouring the nuance of ourselves and the myriad of ways we articulate our identity as Africans in the world.
“As someone who calls multiple places ‘home’, the process of writing ‘Self’ in different cultural contexts is deeply satisfying on both a professional and personal level.
“I am very much inspired by (the) place. Most of my albums over the years are informed by a keen sense of “where”. I suppose that is from always feeling as though one place never seemed to truly define me. I am African and American.
“I am Ugandan and Rwandan. I am a New Yorker and a Lagosian. The list is long… so my music is about sounding home - all of those places - through the stories I’ve lived and my imagination.”
Also a playwright, she was recently named a 2019 Sundance Theatre Fellow for her original musical about the great South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba. The world premiere production was shut down only six days before opening night at The St. Louis Repertory Theater due to Covid-19.
“Miriam Makeba was the first African artist to achieve success on the global cultural stage. I believe all African artists - no matter the genre or discipline - are indebted to her for making room for us.
“The musical I have written is a homage to an icon who inspires me greatly through her legacy both on and off of the stage," she shared
Somi hopes to bring the production to South Africa once the pandemic has died down.
The Grammys will be held on January 31 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be hosted by Mzansi’s Trevor Noah.