As an East African vocalist and songwriter who came of age in the American Midwest, my creative process has always been about searching for the in-between. How do I convey the here and the there-the America and the Africa-in me? Thankfully, there are musicians on both sides of the Atlantic who’ve taught me that I could create a sonic world infused with both my African heritage and Western influences.
When we reflect on the longstanding relationship between African music and jazz, it always feels like some sort of chicken-and-egg conversation that begs to move beyond blue notes and polyrhythmic sensibilities. To me, there is a cultural and political construction of global black identities that sits firmly inside of the jazz idiom as well-mostly because there is a specific type of freedom in the music, a specific type of knowing and pain that resonates deeply with black communities around the globe. This is not to say that jazz has not beautifully evolved into a global music expressed by all cultures and ethnicities; it is merely to celebrate the perpetual exchange between the African continent and her diaspora. The following is a very short list of African vocalists whose work inspires me to keep reaching for wholeness and home-wherever that might be.