It is worth acknowledging the influence of Nigeria on the global soundscape in recent times. The Afrobeat renaissance – with Nigerian artistes such as Wizkid, Davido and D’banj at the forefront- has caught the attention of some global superstar artistes, who have incorporated elements of afrobeats into some of their music-Drake and Alicia Keys are worth mentioning.
Long before Drake got enamored by Wizkid’s Ojuelegba, there had been others who, not only found the appealing sound of afrobeats worth experimenting with but the country, Nigeria, as a place for inspiration. In 2014, an artiste by name SOMI visited Nigeria in search of inspiration for her album and the result; The Lagos Music Salon.
SOMI is a reputed jazz artiste. A highly regarded talent who has been compared to South African great Miriam Makeba. Her talent had earned her collaborative spots with Mos Def, Baaba Maal, Paul Simon, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Billy Childs among others.
Born in Illinois, USA to immigrant parents from Rwanda and Uganda, SOMI-whose musical style has been compared to that of Nina Simone- is not oblivious of African music. And her 18-months stint in Nigeria can be felt on The Lagos Music Salon. The album is a compendium of various broad musical influences-afrobeats, jazz, soul, pop and had features from Angelique Kidjo, Common, Ambrose Akinmusire and In His Image. Her duvet-like voice and sometimes whispery tone- the sweetener of the album- combined with the various infectious West African rhythms (afrobeats) and delicate arrangements is one of the outstanding feeling on the album.
The Lagos Music Salon broached themes of feminism (empowerment), freedom, activism, beauty and love. Aside the sounds, voice and the themes, SOMI’s lyrics are delivered in poetry sonnets with strength, emotions permeating her soft voice. On songs such the Angelique Kidjo featured Lady Revisited-a re-work of Fela Kuti’s song of same title- SOMI and Ms. Kidjo inspire their fellow women to take pride in themselves. Whiles SOMI intoned ‘African men/don’t you know? /We are the future life they don’t show?/Take my hands, let’s make it out of this valley/ Use your strength and love to guide me’, Angelique Kidjo exalted the strength of fellow women: African woman/Strong and free/Remove yourself from misery/if you can see the power in your soul/then gather all your pride and gold’’
Her advocacy continued on When Rivers Cry, where she decried the aloofness of African leaders in saving the environment and helping stem the tide of climate change. Assisted by Oscar-winning rapper Common, When Rivers Cry opened kids mentioning names of the famous rivers in Africa: Nile, Orange, Limpopo, Senegal, Zambezi, Congo, and Niger before the intense and soaring violin sounds introduced the voice of SOMI.
SOMI wondered why, despite the havoc rivers could cause, nothing is being done to forestall its destructive powers: temperature rising/No one stopping to wonder why/…eroding shorelines whiles the river cry, adding ‘oldman recalls the kindness of the sun before the rivers cried’’
Common talked poetically about the spiritual essence of the river: The river sells a story of God’s reign and glory/Pay homage to the land of those who came before me/…my pops said the hurricane is from the ancestors/reminding us of who we are and our transgressions’. When Rivers Cry is a dirge to humanity, to life, to death and a call to action.
The Lagos Music Salon boasted some good songs including the lively Ankara Sunday, the warm and stroking Ginger Me Slowly (Ginger me with pillow talk and pretty things/Ginger me with intellect and wine/Ginger me with poetry and roses in the afternoon) and Love Juju -a jazzy tune replete with dondo, guitar strings and rattling sounds from a gourd. She also referenced Nigerian folklore on the importance of male sons on Akobi: First Born S(u)n.
SOMI also reworked the famous Nigerian classic Love Nwantintin along with In His Image and also touched on the subject of blackness and skin bleaching on Four African Women singing ‘my mirror is my magazine).
Despite its serious subject matter, The Lagos Music Salon showcased the humorous side of Nigerians on interludes or skits such as Story of Monkey, Four. One. Nine and First Kiss: Eko Oni Baje, where SOMI was being interrogated by Immigration officers at the Murtala Mohammed Airport on who and what she does.
Jazz music is considered an elitist genre of music consumed by just a section of the society. But, with The Lagos Music Salon, SOMI shattered that myth and presented an album that we can relate to whiles projecting the wide spectrum of African rhythms to the world as Fela Kuti and Kofi Ghanaba before her did.
Thank you for this SOMI