The African sun rose early in Vaba Lava as Somi transformed the scenery with her album Petite Afrique into an African-inspired setting.
With her smoky, pleasantly warm, full and sometimes seductive voice she captivated the audience. The audience was spellbound and attentive, cheering and clapping along.
Somi’s exotic style showed both in personal and musical style. Besides the elements of jazz, R&B, African or Latin American style, polyrhythmic passages can be found in the drummer’s playing. On the vocal level Somi shone with beat box like elements. The rhythmic breathing and exclamations reminiscent of a jungle call or a bird of paradise screaming seemed to get into people’s hearts.
This is exactly what Somi does with her lyrics: hitting the heart. Combined with little stories which she told between songs, the listeners were made to think, and at the same time were gripped by the voice and filled with fascination. What is Somi singing about?
For Petite Afrique she got inspiration from the New York borough of Harlem, which is known for its deep cultural roots and immigrants from Africa. She has poetically combined the stories she witnessed there into a collection of songs that make America’s immigrant experience highly appreciated. Somi herself is descended from immigrant U.S. citizens from Uganda and Rwanda, thus incorporating racial and cultural identity into her songs and performances. Hence she captures the spirit of the immigrants’ hearts in a very skilful way. The very first song on stage is reminiscent of an African tribal song, which contains strange syllables in a sing-song, interspersed with some sighs and gently rocketing vocal excess.
In the rewritten song Alien, which is adapted from Sting‘s Englishman in New York, Somi addresses xenophobia and isolation felt by the African community in America. The phrase “O-oh, I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an African in New York” creates a more melancholic and gloomy mood. With the song Like Dakar she wants to address all those who in any way feel “othered” or excluded from society and dedicates it to their parents. Also outstanding is her song Two Dollar Day in which she describes the hard life of a working woman in Harlem who works all day for a minimum wage: “There is a woman on the road, she got mouls to feed, […] floors to clean, […] dreams to dream, […] tears to cry”. At the same time she appeals: “there are people on the road, can you get them home?”. With this she almost moves to tears, causes goose bumps and takes your breath away.
Each song started with an outstanding solo instrumentalist, whereby the musicians took turns to be in focus. Every single musician did an excellent performance. The musicians all seemed ecstatic and passionate in their brilliant way of making music.
All in all Somi captivated with her femininity, her elegant arm and dance movements of African origin. Despite some critical themes in the songs, she managed to bring lightness to the concert, not least through her charming stage chat. After the first song she started with the question “How are you?” and when getting a reserved answer she knew how to break the ice by asking: “Why are you so quiet? Are Estonians quiet?“
It was a very successful concert, which was sold out and ended with partly standing ovations after an encore.
24th April, 18:00 Vaba Lava
Somi – vocal
Toru Dodo – piano
Hervé Samb – guitar
Gino Chantoiseau – bass
Arnaud Dolmen – drums
See photos from the concert here.