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Somi: Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Bigband (Salon Africana)

A review of the singer/songwriter's first recording with a large ensemble

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Somi: Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Bigband
The cover of Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Bigband by Somi

This recording documents a May 2019 meeting between vocalist Somi and the titular German outfit (also known as the hr-Bigband)—her first collaboration with a big band, but you’d never know it from the sound of things. Presenting stories that dissect the experiences within immigrant, female, Black, and African communities, it’s a notable piece of art intent on raising questions while also rousing spirits.

The program, focusing primarily on material from Somi’s two previous albums, 2014’s The Lagos Music Salon and 2017’s Petite Afrique, prizes both strength and space. John Beasley’s expertly tailored arrangements drive the production but never encroach on the vocals or detract from the narrative(s). Guitarist Hervé Samb and pianist Toru Dodo build on their deep connections with Somi in artful ways, and the ensemble thrives on the act of supportive creation.

Steering a course through painful realities proves to be a recurring theme, as Somi draws attention to vulnerable peoples and serious issues. The pointed and percussive “Black Enough” deals with multiple layers of racism. “The Gentry,” a buoyant thrill ride with a lengthy Hans Glawischnig bass introduction, explores the cultural sterility that arrives in the wake of gentrification. “Lady Revisited,” an Afrobeat-influenced offering that takes part of its lyrical flow from Fela Kuti’s “Lady,” delves into the topic of domestic violence. And the sorrowful “Like Dakar,” gliding in five, muses on the supplanting of Harlem’s Senegalese residents and their mores. 

Never one to shy away from difficult subject matter, Somi lets her voice resonate with a blend of poise and power. And by donating the album’s proceeds to Black Art Futures Fund, she walks the walk while singing to truth.


Preview or download Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Bigband on Amazon!

Artist’s Choice: Somi Celebrates Africa

Originally Published

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.