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African Jazz Gets New Voice

For years. African jazz has been a genre considered almost extinct. The once-dominant style has been overshadowed first by soul music and now by hip-hop.

In Somi, a young woman from East Africa raised in the United States, African jazz may have gotten a boost. Critics say she has reinvented the musical form with a vibrancy that has recaptured the old flavor of African jazz, while infusing it with an element of new age and soul music. She calls it “holistic New African Jazz”

Based in New York City, the sultry singer performs to audiences from all over the world, in over four languages, three of them African. She says that her inspiration comes from the experiences of being an African woman. Somi's messages of hope and peace are now contributing to post-genocide reconciliation and development efforts in Rwanda, where she was invited by the government to perform before hundreds of people at a recent cultural festival.

“It is sort of a feminist narrative and references to nature,” she said.

Somi maintains roots in her home countries Uganda and Rwanda, and visits each year, to carry out charitable work for women and youth. In fact, she plans to donate 10 percent of her album sales to the Rwanda Survivors Fund (SURF),to help women who were infected with HIV/AIDS during the genocide.

She speaks out against domestic violence and she says the underlying melancholy in some of her music underscores the importance of “hearing the voices of African women.”

She says that her music aims to give hope to a new Africa, and speaks of walking in the footsteps of her idols like Mariam Makeba,Khadja Nin and Monique Seko.

Somi reiterates the importance of African musicians in the west to portray a positive image of their mother continent.

“The west has an antiquated perception of what Africa is,”she said.

She puts the onus on artists to challenge these perceptions by “using the platform we are given, to challenge the norms and push the envelope” to paint a better image of the African continent and culture.

Somi says that she is encouraged by the current visibility of African artists and the presence granted by such western media outlets as MTV Africa. This, she hopes will translate to an increased level of commercial success and an acceptance of African artists in the global market.

Since her 2000 debut, Somi has performed on U.S national television in appearances on NBC and also on BET which called her “one of the most talented up-and-coming-artists.” She has also performed in New York City’s prestigious JVC Jazz Festival with the Harlem Jazztet, and at Chicago’s famed South Shore Jazz Festival. She was recently featured as a “most promising young songwriter” in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Playback Magazine and CNN International.

Somi released her debut album in 2003 at the legendary Blue Note jazz club in New York City. Her new album Red Soil In My Eyes is set to be released April 10, 2007. She recently completed her Master's degree at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. For more information please visit or