Global citizen Somi: “Africa is everything – that’s the beginning and the end for me”

02. May 2019
Ave Tölpt

Freelance Jazzkaar journalist Ave Tölpt interviewed Somi briefly after her concert on the sixth day of Jazzkaar.


You are a wonderful musician and bring a very different vibe here, which we need! What are your emotions after the concert today, did our public treat you well?


It is my first show in a couple of weeks, so it is always like an opening. It gives me courage; you guys gave me courage tonight.


So where do you get this freedom, free movement and wonderful synergy with you co-musicians?


I think music is freedom; it’s been a place where I can express all of myself as an African woman, as an American woman, as a New Yorker, as somebody who lives in Nigeria sometimes and in South Africa. I am a global citizen. I am so grateful for my musicians, they’re so generous and free on stage, this inspires me to try to give them the same. I am trying to be inside the music more than anything else.


Where did you find such amazing musicians?


Toru and Hervé, the pianist and the guitarist, I work with them regularly. We all met in New York, even though Hervé lives in Paris, but the three of us met in NY when we all first started up. Gino and Anrnaud live in Paris, so I met them through Hervé actually.


You have said Petite Afrique symbolises beautiful difference. How will difference change the world?


It will make us recognise we are the same.


In your music you tell stories about Harlem and Africa. What is Harlem today?


Harlem today is changing dramatically. It has really shifted, but it has always been a diverse community, but a lot of people can no longer afford it because it is upper Manhattan, on top of central park – really prime real estate in NYC. People take more interest in places where others haven’t been before. It has always been a wonderful neighborhood, but mainly for people of color and immigrants. That’s why I wrote Petite Afrique, because now a lot of the black community is displaced. They are kind of pushed out. So Harlem is changing dramatically, but it still has its soul – and the spirit of all the great artists and voices who passed through there is still there very much alive. So, it is different but it is also the same.


What has living in South Africa showed you, about yourself and/or life in Africa?


I have lived in Africa on and off throughout my life. It helps me not to take things for granted, because I was born in the States and am an American citizen, so it is very easy to take privilege for granted, privilege of geography, privilege of passport – I don’t have to get Visas and things like that. And the privilege of making art in a place that supports the arts to a certain level as a professional allows me to live and work as a professional. It values it that way. Those are the things. In Africa it is a very exciting time artistically, culturally. But we are just starting to develop our own cultural economy in a real way. So, there is still a lot of work that we have to do. And as an artist it is hard to do everything that you want to do at home, as an African artist. But for me it is very important to go and spend that time – last year I spent half a year in South Africa, before that I spent two years in Nigeria, before that Kenya and Tanzania. It is very important for me to go and be a part of that energy, contribute wherever I can, bring visibility to artists and cultural institutions and initiatives that are starting up though my own platform, somebody who has the opportunity and privilege to work in a global space and in global settings and stages. Africa is everything – that’s the beginning and the end for me.


You really present Africa everywhere, also politically, which is beautiful.


Sure! (smiling warmly)


What is the most important thing in life?


Love and freedom, but love is freedom and freedom is love, right? (laughing)


SOMI (USA) Petite Afrique 24th April 2019, Vaba Lava



Somi – vocal

Toru Dodo – piano

Hervé Samb – guitar

Gino Chantoiseau – bass

Arnaud Dolmen – drums


Check out photos from the concert here