Zenzile: The Reimagination Of Miriam Makeba
Release date: March 4, 2022
Label: Salon Africana
GRAMMY-nominated vocalist and songwriter Somi presents her new album, Zenzile: The Reimagination Of Miriam Makeba, a celebration of the late Makeba’s invaluable musical contributions and messages of social justice. The album, which is releasing on the artist’s Salon Africana label, features Somi’s renditions of some of Makeba’s best known songs—both Makeba’s own compositions and covers. The release date is set to honor Makeba on what would have been her 90th birthday.
Regarded as one of Africa’s first international superstars, Makeba (whose given name is ‘Zenzile’) elevated the spirit of a continent, including her native South Africa. Her courage, however, was met with three decades of political exile from her homeland followed by blacklisting in the United States after her marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength led to a record that she hopes will inspire a rediscovery of Makeba’s life and work. Somi adds, “This album 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.”
In recognition of Makeba’s resonance throughout Africa and the diaspora, Somi invited a number of special guests to perform on the record. From South Africa, Grammy-winning male vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singer-songwriter Msaki, vocalist and activist Thandiswa Mazwai, and jazz pianist-composer Nduduzo Makhathini join Somi for the tribute. Guests also include GRAMMY-winning American jazz singer Gregory Porter, Nigerian singer-musician Seun Kuti (Fela Kuti’s youngest son), and GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter and activist, Angelique Kidjo.
To further celebrate the work of Makeba, Somi stars in Dreaming Zenzile, her original musical theater production based on the life of Makeba under the direction of Obie-award winner Lileanna Blain-Cruz. On September 10, this electrifying portrait of Makeba kicked off the ‘21-’22 theater season at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep). The rolling world premiere production will journey on to the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton this month, running January 15 to February 13, to ArtsEmerson in Boston (February 23-27), to a Off-Broadway run in New York City co-produced by the National Black Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop and Apollo Theater, all in partnership with Octopus Theatricals, starting May/June 2022. The soul-stirring production includes a live jazz band playing original music and reinterpretations of Makeba’s remarkable catalog while telling the story of her extraordinary life journey.
In addition to Somi’s upcoming album and theater production, 2021 brought the artist her first GRAMMY nomination. Holy Room: Live at the Alte Oper, recorded with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, was nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album. The album also won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album.
Late last year, Spotify announced its partnership with Somi as the latest African singer to join its EQUAL Music Program. The EQUAL Music Program is a global initiative that Spotify has created to cultivate gender equality in music and support female creators under one brand. In celebration of the partnership and new music, Somi was featured on a billboard in Times Square.
In addition, Somi was recently featured in “The Arts Interrupted,” an episode of PBS Great Performances that examined artistic challenges and potential for growth during the Covid shutdown.
MORE ABOUT SOMI
Somi Kakoma is a singer, songwriter, playwright and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan descent. She has released seven acclaimed albums, scoring positions on the World Music, Jazz, and Heatseekers charts. Somi’s records have featured guests including Common, Angelique Kidjo, and renowned South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who became her longtime mentor. She has been widely honored as a Soros Equality Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, a USA Doris Duke Fellow, a 2021 Grammy nominee, and a recipient of two NAACP Image Awards. She performed at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews, and Vusi Mahlesela in celebration of South African democracy, and was invited by UN Secretary General to perform in commemoration of the International Day of Rememberance of the Victimes of Slavery. Somi is the founder of Salon Africana, a boutique arts agency and label for contemporary African musicians and writers. She holds undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and African Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Master’s degree in Performance Studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Creative Practice & Critical Inquiry at Harvard University. www.somimusic.com
"For the last seven years, Somi has been grappling with the legacy of Miriam Makeba." Read the full feature interview here.
"There are so many highlights (and no weak moments) in the 17-song program." Read the review here.
"Grammy-nominated vocalist Somi is celebrating Valentine’s Day with the new single Love Tastes Like Strawberries, featuring a guest appearance by Gregory Porter." Read the article here.
"I spoke with Somi about the project and her upcoming release, her research into the life of Miriam Makeba, and how she hopes to carry the voice of “Mama Africa” (as Makeba was known) into today’s continuing struggles for justice." Read the complete interview here.
"One hopes Zenzile will lead many more to discover—or rediscover—Makeba’s life and work." Read the complete review here.
"Her grounding in US creative music and training in jazz defines the tools that she brings to her craft." Read the Best New Jazz for March 2022 article here.
"It's a wonderful, 17-song tribute to the late Miriam Makeba." Read the review here.
SHANNON J. EFFINGER
"This is how you want to show up in the world with so much generosity and commitment not only to your art but to your people. That inspired me to look closer." Read the full feature article in the Washington Post here.