Album: If The Rains Come First
01. Hot Blue
02. Prayer To the Saint of the Brokenhearted
03. Wallflower Blues
04. Be Careful, Be Kind
05. Enganjyani (feat. Hugh Masekela)
07. Changing Inspiration
09. If The Rains Come First
10. Jewel of His Soul
11. Maybe Then
With a beautiful voice enhanced by overdubbing techniques, Somi joins the elite ranks of first-class world music jazz-influenced singers with this, her third CD. Joined by the likes of the fabulous electric and acoustic keyboardist Toru Dodo, among others, Somi employs an ethereal, surreal, distanced sound, coupled with earthiness and village ceremonial elements to create soulful tunes that by some standards approach pop music, and in other instances, pure romantic spirit songs. Most of the lyrics are in English (she was born in Illinois) and enunciated well, and embrace themes of home, the great outdoors, love, longing, belonging, and wistfully wondering why.
But the underlying theme of Africa (her parents were from Rwanda and Uganda, and they lived in Zambia) is present in this music that borders on nu jazz, while employing an instrumental background of uptown metropolitan contemporary styles. Trumpeter Hugh Masakela is one of many guests, feeding Somi’s repeated lyric lines during the low-key “Enganjyani,” and guitarist David Gilmore works into the mix on the harder samba beat of “Rising,” while the creative progressive plectrist Liberty Ellman tones down the light and airy “Changing Inspiration.” Nigerian bassist and producer Michael Olatuja is the biggest influence alongside the virtuosic Dodo in shaping Somi’s themes, whether on the sweet “Hot Blue” in 6/8 time, the Afro-pop-styled “Wallflower Blues” in a feature for the excellent Senegalese guitarist Hervé Samb, or the rain forest love song title track.
A midtempo yodel-based tune, “Kuzunguka” showcases the nature girl in Somi, “Be Careful, Be Kind” is a pretty, introspective ballad, while “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted” is not so much an African blues as a faster-paced highlife plea loaded with percussion-driven beats. Alicia Olatuja and David Hunter overdub several vocal tracks alongside Somi, who also sings in Swahili and the Ugandan Rutooro dialect of her mother. This completely charming program of songs — recorded in Paris — is impossible to put in a specific category. It is heartfelt, conversely deep and light, and attractive in a way that Dido or Rhianna can kill softly with a smile or a whisper, yet Somi chooses to sing simply with little pretense or need for pyrotechnic affectation.