Somi and her live band performed songs from her previous albums on the night of Valentine’s Day, filling us with feelings of love and inspiration at the Krannert Center.
Written by Grace ChenContinue reading
Though activism in the traditional sense can involve rallies, protests, and other forms of civil disobedience, Somi showed us through her performance that music can also be a strong force in telling stories aimed at making a difference.
What stood out to me was the fact that Somi sang her first song before introducing herself. Having been to a couple of concerts in the past, I thought this was an interesting storytelling mechanism. By doing this, she intrigued me: her music was interesting but who was she? Though this practice wouldn’t count as direct engagement, it certainly made me more curious as a member of the audience.
I would describe her performance as a collection of culturally-influenced songs that shed light on the injustices that happen around the world. But more generally, I would say her performance was means of connecting more deeply with her audience in the discussion of those injustices.
To form this connection, Somi touches on common touchpoints with the audience (including talking about her early life living in Urbana-Champaign). Additionally, her mention of social issues that we all are aware of (e.g. race relations as it relates to immigrant families or Harlem’s contribution to African-American culture) further reinforces the connection.
Her support staff of musicians adds additional diversity to the performance, which allows us to see various perspectives from the different instruments at play.
Somi clearly has a great relationship with the other musicians, as she has an amazing rapport with everyone and introduces them several times, thanks them for being present, and gives almost everyone an opportunity to play a solo.
In doing so, Somi is walking the talk as it relates to diversity (racially and instrumentally) and makes the audience feel like she, as an artist, is just as inclusive as her music is.
Though you could generally classify her music to be jazz, primarily on the slower side, the performance was pretty diverse from a melodic standpoint. Some songs excluded certain instruments while others had those same instruments play significant roles in the song.
But more importantly, every song told a story. Whether it was Somi acknowledging Harlem’s role in shaping African-American culture or dedicating a song to her mother, Somi’s music allowed us to get a deeper look at who she really was.
Additional to that feature of her music is her apparent ambition to drive social change. For instance, her song “Two Dollar Day” gave us a glimpse into the relationships between people and their governments — and just how fragile humanity really is in the wake of financial hardship.
So, most fundamentally, her music speaks about the human condition: we’re all different in some ways but we’re also similar in more ways — and have many relatable experiences — that we initially think about.
I think what struck me most was how engaged the audience was. Of course, jazz isn’t everyone’s go-to genre, but the audience seemed to be intrigued by the stories that Somi told so much so that it considered music as simply the medium to get those stories across.
It’s the first time I’ve thought about music as a tool for storytelling and I think it was a good experience to listen to Somi prove that thesis.
By Tyler Tubbs
Laura Kabasomi Kakoma, better known as Somi, provides a striking combination of art and activism in her own brand of slinky, story-telling jazz that incorporates traditional African elements.
Somi interacted with each of her band members individually in the form of either a solo performance for the member or a duet between the two. Her frequent interactions with the band gave the performance an informal tone, open for a conversation between the artists and the audience. While the audience’s participation in this conversation was mostly metaphorical, Somi seized the opportunity to speak about herself, her beliefs, and issues facing the African and African-American community both conversationally and lyrically.
Somi performed a style of slower, story-telling jazz infused with traditional African nuances. In just one show, Somi was able to use her music to describe many issues facing African-Americans and women around the world. The story-telling element of her music allows her to capture the essence of the common person’s struggle and emotion. This connection elicits similar emotional responses in the audience, empathizing with those who share the strife portrayed in the music while simultaneously providing a lens of understanding for those who may never experience such confrontation.
Following Somi’s performance, the auditorium erupted in praise. After such a powerful performance, one can not help but to try to relive their favorite moment of it. For me, that moment was her song “Two Dollar Day” which follows the story of a widowed mother in Nigeria after the government protests over oil. This was such a tremendously powerful song because it reminded me of the struggle that single parents all around the world and in the U.S. face on a daily basis. “Two Dollar Day” is a beautiful tribute the countless sacrifices that single parents make.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week for a fresh blog on the performance of Anna Deavere Smith!
Somi, a jazz musician who was born and raised right here in Champaign, IL, set out to change the definition of what jazz and African music entailed, frequently combining the two.
Written by Willa Wu
Somi performed her music in the Colwell Playhouse of the Krannert Center for Performing Arts on February 14, 2020. The singer and her group of talented musicians, who have won countless awards, delivered an awe inspiring performance, where each individual in the band had their own time to shine.Continue reading