Somi: in the absence of things
Vocalist, composer, and writer Somi forges new ground with this experimental short film exploring the spiritual consequence of the global pandemic on creative practice. Like most people, Somi’s professional life was dramatically interrupted by COVID-19 and she found herself reflecting on the deep sense of personal vacancy felt in the absence of live performance. Partially narrated by Somi’s mother, this meditative film blends spoken word, art song, and movement with deconstructed concert recordings from Somi’s new Grammy-nominated live album, Holy Room—Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band, and registers what Somi calls “the emotional vibration and undemocratic fragility of cultural space and the living stage.” The piece aims to frame the disruption of otherwise quieted cultural spaces as a larger metaphor for the work most American arts institutions still need to do in service of Black storytelling.
This free first look at the work-in-progress film in the absence of things on December 1 was followed by a conversation with Somi; the director of the film, Mariona Lloreta; and Obie Award-winning Artistic Director of New York City’s National Black Theatre (NBT) Jonathan McCrory to discuss the meaning of the film, the collaborators’ creative process, and the role of Black artists during and beyond COVID-19.
Somi Kakoma was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda and has built a career of transatlantic storytelling. Known simply as ‘Somi’ in the jazz world, her last studio album, Petite Afrique, is a song cycle about African immigrants in the midst of a gentrified Harlem in New York City, won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.
It was also the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi’s widely acclaimed major label debut The Lagos Music Salon, which was inspired by an 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria. Both albums earned her ECHO Jazz Award nominations for Best International Jazz Vocalist. Most recently, Somi released Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band. She is a Sundance Theatre Fellow, a Soros Equality Fellow, USA Doris Duke Fellow, and TED Senior Fellow. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom. For more information on Somi, please visit www.somimusic.com
Mariona Lloreta is a Spanish-American interdisciplinary artist working internationally in film, painting, and dance. Mariona’s work celebrates the universal thread that binds our human experience as it examines the fine line between presence and absence, wholesomeness and brokenness, past, present and future.
Her work dives into themes of identity, spirituality and collective memory, while reflecting upon the beauty and vulnerability of human existence.” Recent projects include writing, directing, and co-producing narrative film A lua nunca morre in Rio de Janeiro which has so far won the Best Experimental Film award and Best Cinematography at Oscar-Qualifying festival Reel Sisters in New York City, and has been selected by Oscar-Qualifying Edmonton International Film Festival, acclaimed New York Latino Film Festival, NALIP's Latino Media Fest, San Francisco Independent Film Festival and Miami Film Festival, among others. Her previous film, Amenze, in between worlds, which she wrote, directed, and filmed, won Best Cinematography, received a Best International Film nomination and was selected by dozens of film festivals, including Oscar-qualifying Zinebi in Bilbao, Spain. Mariona also edited award-winning feature film The Ghost and the House of Truth (2019) in South Africa and produced narrative short film On Monday of Last Week (2018). She has directed and produced several documentary films, including ReSignifications, commissioned by New York University and Living Together commissioned by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston. Mariona is currently working on her first feature film and she is also producing several female-led, international projects. Mariona currently serves as Affiliate Professor of Screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston and as instructor at creative writing agency GrubStreet.
Photos: Anna Longworth, J. Quazi King