One tendency I've found among musicians is that worldly artists tend to be pretty good at making worldly music. Vocalist and songstress Somi certainly qualifies. Born in middle-American Illinois but to immigrants from the East African nations of Rwanda and Uganda, Somi spent part of her childhood in Zambia. She studied the cello through much of her life, until she was inspired by her mother to take up singing. Eventually, she molded her own emblem on music; that sound of hers is a perfect blend of American jazz and soul with East African hues and rhythms. Somi calls it "New African Soul." This multicultural approach has been honed over two albums and as of October 13, Somi has a third album that's perhaps her most personal one yet, entitled If The Rains Come First.
If "New African Soul" sounds just a tad like Michael Olatuja's Speak album written about here earlier this year, well, Olatuja is very much involved on this album, too: he contributes his electric and acoustic bass playing deftness on every track, as well as producing this record along with Michele Locatelli. Having recorded this disc last spring in Paris, they were able to pull in a rhythm section from the city's vibrant local African music scene. By using musicians who instinctively understand Somi's delicate vision, Olatuja and Locatelli gives the sonic palette some depth and it's smooth as the surface of a bayou, but tastefully avoids trends of the day. It embraces the ears with the comforting sounds of acoustic guitars, gurgling electric piano and genuine African percussion. Most importantly, they allow Somi's voice, songs and musical conception come fully to life.
Somi's lithe voice carries the elegant moodiness of Nina Simone and the smokey allure of Sade. Even though Somi sings in three different East African languages as well as English, you don't even notice she's giving us linguistic change-ups because the universal language of music stays out front. She doesn't attempt to knock you over with a broad range (although as "Maybe Then" shows us, she has little difficulties hitting the upper register), nor does she over-emote, a trap too many soul singers fall into. She takes the songwriter's approach of rendering her lyrics in service of the melody.
Somi wrote the lyrics for all eleven tracks and created those melodies with some help from the producers and the other backing musicians. Though Somi doesn't play any instruments on this record, she clearly understands enough about music theory from all her years studying classical music to put together some subtle, elaborate melodies that are consistently sweet-sounding. Take, for instance, the opener "Hot Blue," which grooves along gently on a circular African rhythm but concludes with a more assertive bridge where Somi provides a lead vocal counterpoint in English to background vocals sung in one of those African tongues. Her lyrics are consistently introspective, dealing with issues of spirituality and confronting life's challenges while relishing its blessings.
The contemporary Brazilian vocal backing on "Rising" combine with African beats and jazz guitar to create a breezy three-way connection among Africa, South America and North America." Other notable touches are the tight, soothing East African grooves and airy vocals found on the title tune, the gentle piano tribute to Somi's father "Jewel Of His Soul, and the way the jazzy melody just floats above rapid percussion rumbling underneath on "Kuzunguka." Somi even supplies some effective oral percussion on the acoustic guitar based "Changing Inspiration" (see video of live version below).
The track being promoted most heavily is "Enganjyani," which means "most beloved" in the Rutooro language. Hugh Masekela guest appearance may have much to do with the hoopla on this track, but even the famed South African trumpeter takes a backseat to Somi's flair for easy flowing melodic lines and naturally heartfelt vocal stylings.
Somi came up with the heading If The Rains Come First from her mother, who told her that rains can bring blessings as much as they offer challenges. Somi took the challenge of putting together a well conceived and carried-out record of African soul and the result is a blessing for those who appreciate such a intelligent and mellifluous mixture of sounds spanning oceans.
If The Rains Come First comes to us via ObliqueSound Records, the label co-founded by Locatelli and an outfit that thus far seems to have a good eye for finding and recording those worldly musicians who make quality world music.
Origine du Groupe : North America
Style : Alternative Fusion World , Soul , Nu-Jazz , Afrobeat
Sortie : 2009
1 Blue 4:27
2 Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted 3:21
3 Wallflower Blues 4:53
4 Be Careful, Be Kind 5:12
5 Enganjyani 5:19
6 Rising 3:22
7 Changing Inspiration 3:14
8 Kuzunguka 4:46
9 If the Rains Come First 5:09
10 Jewel of His Soul 4:31
11 Maybe Then 6:08
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