Singer, songwriter, and actor Somi Kakoma was originally set to debut her self-composed musical about Miriam Makeba in the spring of 2020. The pandemic postponed that tribute to the late South African vocalist and activist (a national tour of the production is now in the works), but Somi continues her efforts to honor Makeba with her new album Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba. “This album,” she writes in the liner notes, “is my attempt to honor the unapologetic voice of an African woman who inevitably made room for my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do.” One hopes Zenzile will lead many more to discover—or rediscover—Makeba’s life and work.
The 17 tracks on the album include both Makeba originals and covers she made her own. On “Pata Pata,” the Afropop dance track she popularized in the ’60s, Somi slows down the tune with soft chants and strings, as audio clips of Makeba discussing her philosophies on life play in the background. On “Milele,” she speeds up the tempo a bit and is joined by vocalists Seun Kuti (son of Nigeria’s famed Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti) and Thandiswa Mazwai.
Somi made sure to include a diverse group of guests, many of whom hail from South Africa, including Grammy-winning male vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (on the a cappella freedom song “Nongqongqo”), singer/songwriter Msaki, and jazz pianist/composer Nduduzo Makhathini, whose piano skills provide a beautiful backdrop for Somi’s vocals on “Mabhongo.”
With Zenzile, Somi paints a colorful picture of Miriam Makeba’s diverse catalog. If her upcoming musical production is anything like the album, then it’s bound to draw a large crowd of both old and new fans.