Somi Kakoma

Artist Picture

Somi Kakoma

vocalist, composer

Some musicians benefit from a deep connection with the place and traditions into which they are born. Others find who they are on extended journeys, connecting with sounds that are foreign yet inherently familiar. Somi Kakoma—the vocalist, composer, and writer born in Illinois to parents who emigrated from Rwanda and Uganda—discovered her musical identity traversing the cultural bridge between America and Africa. That sense of discovery continues to guide a career in which she has forged a musical signature, channeling the jazz, soul, and the music of her roots.

Somi’s new album, Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba is a deeply personal tribute to the legendary Miriam Makeba, the groundbreaking South African singer and activist who turned 31 years of exile imposed on her by the apartheid regime in her native country into a career of global triumph and influence. It is also a companion project to an original musical (also about Miriam Makeba) that Somi wrote called Dreaming Zenzile. Both of them arrive on the tails of a critically acclaimed live album. Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Salon Africana 2020) was released shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately earned her a 2021 Grammy® nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. With that nomination, Somi became the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy® jazz categories. The album also won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album. 

Her previous studio album Petite Afrique was a daring, relevant, refashioning of what "jazz" and "African music" mean - both singularly and to each other. The album, which tells the story of African immigrants in the midst of a gentrified Harlem in New York City, won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album and featured special guest Aloe Blacc. Petite Afrique was the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi's major label debut The Lagos Music Salon which was inspired by an 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria and features special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common landed at #1 on US and international Jazz charts. Straddling the worlds of African jazz, soul, and pop, Both albums earned her ECHO Award nominations in Germany for Best International Jazz Vocalist.