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.
The Event as a Performance
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.
Engaging With the Other Musicians
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.
The Songs — and Deeper Meanings
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.
What Struck Me
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.