Harlem, a historic neighborhood with rich cultural roots, is known for its vibrant, African immigrant community. East-African jazz songstress Somi has taken very real issues, such as gentrification of the neighborhood of Harlem, and turned them into song, all of which pack hard-truth and blunt honesty of the realities of being a black woman, experiences as the daughter of African immigrants and an active part of the African immigrant community.
This past Thursday, Oct. 12, Keene State College welcomed the supremely talented singer, Somi, and her quartet of talented musicians. With bloodlines from both Rwanda and Uganda, this Illinois-born native currently lives in Harlem, NY, a place that inspired many songs in her most recent album, Petite Afrique.
Some of her songs such as Black Enough, Gentry and Alien held some charged messages that melded beautifully with the modern jazz masterpiece of the quartet as well as Somi’s expansive vocal range and talents.
“You know that’s not something I set out to do, it’s something that just showed up in the stories that I was inspired to tell,” Somi said about the activism present in her songs and performance.
Her song, Black Enough, left a lasting impression on the crowd. With lyrics such as “Am I black enough for you?” and “Hands up don’t shoot… blacker than you,” the song is an example of the strong and empowering themes present across her album.
Senior Angelica Monroe and junior Jessica Macias both were able to attend a workshop with Somi herself a day prior to the performance, where she performed Black Enough accompanied by just the piano.
“When they had the entire band it transformed the sound… it was amazing to see today,” Munroe said on hearing Black Enough during the performance Thursday.
Senior music major Molly McCoy thought the performance was incredible and also appreciated the messages Somi had to share.
“We, just in general need to listen more to each other,” McCoy said, “She just came from such an honest place in the way she spoke about it and the way she performed it. It was very pure and honest and I felt like in order for things to get better in this country and world, we need to start listening and being more honest and receptive to what people are saying.
Macias said the politically charged messages in Somi’s performances are needed to start discussions that people need to think about. Both also admire Somi as a person.
“She’s very soulful,” Munroe said. “She also likes to be very intimate with people.he likes to be close to then. It’s something that is admirable cause you don’t find that a lot in today’s society.”
Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at KSC, Dottie Morris, called the performance “multisensory” and “amazing.”
She also stressed the importance of artists like Somi, who allow themselves to be so open and honest about their experiences.
“It allows all of us to do the same thing,” Morris said. “I think the more genuine we can be, the more honest we can be and the more connected with each other. I think that came through in the performance.”
On her road to discovering her passion for jazz and pursuit of music, Somi said, “It’s been a long journey. My passion, I think I just am committed to trying to be free. This is all in pursuit of freedom.”
Meridith King can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org