Vocalist and Songwriter
New York, NY
2018 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Somi, born in Illinois to Uganda and Rwanda immigrants, is an acclaimed vocalist and songwriter. She is known for her wide-ranging vocal technique, her original blend of modern jazz with popular and African music, and the innate poetry of her songwriting that often gives voice to issues of social justice. Somi’s latest recording Petite Afrique, for Sony Music’s historic OKeh Records, marks her sixth release and was nominated for a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. It is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants and the gentrification of Harlem’s vibrant West African quarter. Guest collaborators on her albums include Common, Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masekela, and Aloe Blacc.

Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, and former Artist-in-Residence at Park Avenue Armory, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. She is also the founder of New Africa Live, an award-winning non-profit organization that celebrated her fellow African artists. In 2013, United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited Somi to perform at the UN’s General Assembly in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery. The following year, she performed at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela and Dave Matthews to mark 20 years of South African democracy. Currently, Somi is developing a modern jazz play that she wrote about legendary singer-activist Miriam Makeba.

In her heart of hearts, Somi is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.

Portrait photo by Robert Adam Meyer.

  • Artwork by Somi
    Somi and band members Liberty Ellman and Keith Witty perform for The United Nations' General Assembly to commemorate International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Slavery. Photo by Mariona Lloreta.
  • Artwork by Somi
    Somi in a workshop performance of her original play, Dreaming Zenzile at The Public Theater. Photo by Terrence Jennings.
Artwork by Somi Artwork by Somi
Album by Somi