Stories » Somi's Petite Afrique celebrates West Africans in Harlem / Afropop Worldwide

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Somi's Petite Afrique celebrates West Africans in Harlem / Afropop Worldwide

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Somi tells stories with music. This American Midwesterner and daughter of East African parents was effectively born into narrative, and into an inevitable quest for identity. She moved to New York some years back, and began to develop a self-styled career as a singer/songwriter. Somi's sound is tricky to classify. In a recent interview with Afropop's Akornefa Akyea, she embraces the tag "new African jazz," because jazz seems to imply a level of freedom that suits her genre-bending idiosyncrasies. Since the release of Somi's 2014 album, The Lagos Music Salon, a song cycle chronicling an 18-month stay in Lagos, Nigeria, she has truly found her way as an artist, not just a wonderful singer and creative composer, but someone who can bring all the forces of her complex life together to make larger statements.

Petite Afrique celebrates the lives of West Africans in Harlem by incorporating voices and sounds Somi recorded there while researching the album. We hear from a Senegalese taxi driver who touts his people's entrepreneurship and work ethic and bemoans the sentiments of those who say, as the interlude's title puts it, "Go Back to Your Country." And there's the clatter of djembe drums on a Harlem street woven into the closing miasma of the album's final piece, "The Gentry," which also features evocative jazz vocals from renaissance man Aloe Blacc: "Look what they've done to Harlem!"