If The Rains Come First
She floats and flutters like a swatch of chiffon caught in soft cross-breezes, her cream ’n’ sugar, Sade-meets-Astrud Gilberto voice riding gentle waves of guitar, bass and pan-cultural percussion. But don’t let Somi’s mellow style fool you. Whether exploring hope or heartache, personal lesson or universal truth, each of the original compositions that fill her third album is solid as earth and vital as air. The title track recalls an axiom learned from her mother about life’s capriciousness: rain can bring joy or sorrow, plentitude or devastation, depending on when it comes.
From that foundation she constructs a spectrum of tales, all sung in English with daubs of various East African languages, that range from the private pain of “Be Careful, Be Kind,” which recalls a young cousin’s death in a car accident, to the public admonishment of “Jewel of His Soul,” about a homeless man she met in Paris who was a respected intellectual in his native Senegal but is now ignored. Such is Somi’s storytelling prowess that all 11 of her musings on life’s blessings and tribulations are of equal potency, but two stand out as slightly more exquisite: the brooding “Enganjyani,” its fervent quest for true love enriched by Hugh Masekela’s burnished trumpet; and the expansive “Kuzunguka,” reflecting Somi’s joyous gratitude for her father’s victory over cancer.