Baryshnikov Arts Center Resident Artist


Singer/songwriter Somi (NYC) will develop Dreaming Zenzile, a jazz opera inspired by the late South African singer and political activist, Miriam Makeba. The work also features original compositions based on traditional South African vocal choruses and South African Jazz aesthetics, illustrating our respective and interwoven biographies, transnational cultural memory, the transportation of legacy and loss, and the privileging of the female African voice. 

Artist Bio


In late 2011, East African vocalist and songwriter Somi moved from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria, for 18 months in search of new inspiration. The result: her chart-topping 2014 opus and major label debut, The Lagos Music Salon (Sony/OKeh).  The album, which also features special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common, draws its material from the tropical city's boastful cosmopolitanism, urgent inspiration and giant spirit, straddling the worlds of African jazz, soul, and pop.

Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda & Uganda, the African & jazz legacies are central to Somi’s sound.  She was recently hailed as “The New High Priestess of Soul” by The Huffington Post, while The New York Times praised Somi’s “supple jazz singing and compassionate social consciousness” as “both serious and seductive.”  The Lagos Music Salon is a highly anticipated follow up to her last studio album, If The Rains Come First (ObliqSound), a stunning collection of story-based songs which debuted at #2 on the Billboard World Chart and featured her long-time mentor Hugh Masekela.

Widely acknowledged as an arts scholar, Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, a 2013 Park Avenue Armory Artist-in-Residence, and a 2015 Artist-in-Residence at both UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.  She is also the founder of New Africa Live, a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the very best of contemporary African artists working in the performance, visual, and literary arts.  In 2013, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited Somi to perform at the United Nations’ General Assembly in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.  

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Slide photo: Glynis Carpenter / Bio photo: Kelechi Amadi-Obi