(5 / 5)
Somi. Sublime singer, gifted songwriter, playwright and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan descent, based in the US, releasing seven albums to date.
“Zenzile – The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba”, her eight long player, dropped on 4th March and is a joyous celebration of the invaluable musical contributions and messages of social justice made by the ‘first lady of African song’, Miriam Makeba.
The 17-track gem features Somi’s interpretations of some of Miriam’s best-known recordings. Released on what would have been Miriam’s 90th birthday.
Long before the making of this album, Hugh Masekela advised Somi to listen to the song, “Love Tastes Like Strawberries”, as a possible cover version, as he thought it would suit her voice.
Years later Somi has honoured that request as a duet with jazz superstar Gregory Porter. Her decision to invite Porter to participate is a nod to a 1965 Grammy-winning album by Ms. Makeba which featured a series of duets with her own mentor, Harry Belafonte.
Somi and Gregory’s stunning version of “Love Tastes Like Strawberries” was released as a single, just before the release of Somi’s album. The new album also features a lovely version of “House Of The Rising Sun” (hear it further down this page).
Miriam Makeba, whose Christian name was Zenzile, died in 2008, having elevated the spirit of a continent, including her native South Africa, and her courage was met with decades of political exile from her homeland. Her US visa was revoked soon after her marriage to US civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (a Black Panther Party leader).
Somi’s respect for Makeba’s personal strength as well as a lifelong love of her music led to this album that she hopes will inspire a rediscovery of Makeba’s life and work.
Somi’s attempt to honour the unapologetic voice of a woman who made room for the journey of countless other African artists.”In short, I owe her. We all do. She deserves her rightful place in the larger cultural archive of the US and the world in general.”
In recognition of Makeba’s resonance throughout Africa and its diaspora, Somi invited a number of guest musicians to perform on “Zenzile”. From South Africa, male vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singer-songwriter Msaki, vocalist and activist Thandiswa Mazwai and jazz pianist-composer Nduduzo Makhathini all pay respects to their compatriot, while Nigerian singer-musician Seun Kuti (the youngest son of Fela Kuti), Beninese singer-songwriter/activist Angelique Kidjo and the aforementioned Gregory Porter also join Somi for this special tribute.
“Her messages of social justice and the humanity of Black lives still encourage us today. This project is about honouring the vast and immeasurable contribution she made to popular, folk and jazz music on behalf of a people, a continent.”
Somi has just taken the story of Makeba’s life to the stage with the musical, “Dreaming Zenzile”, that she wrote and stars in. With a handful of cast members, it also features a live band that performs original music alongside reworks of Makeba’s repertoire. Having opened in St. Louis to rave reviews, it will transfer to Broadway in New York in 2022.
Somi’s previous albums have featured guests including Common, Angelique Kidjo and the late Hugh Masekela (her longtime mentor).
She was nominated for ‘Best Jazz Vocal Album’ at the most recent Grammy awards ceremony, making her the first African woman ever to be recognised in a Jazz category.
By Steve Best
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’