Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Few contemporary albums bare as particular a narrative as The Lagos Music Salon. The new album by the superb chanteuse Somi, finds her breaking new ground with a hybrid style of music that organically integrates the essence of jazz and soul with the musical depth of her African heritage. "It's the first time ever that I put all other pursuits on hold to focus solely on the creative process," says Somi, who moved to Lagos, Nigeria from her New York home with a passionate desire to find a new direction for her vision and voice.
The Lagos Music Salon marks Somi's major label debut for OKeh Records and is the follow up to her last studio album, If the Rains Come First, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard World Chart. The album features a range of original songs that are sublimely melodic and percussively textured. A socially informed and adventurous vocalist, Somi sings with a soulful beauty about her experiences in Lagos. The album covers a broad swath of styles and features guest performances that include a fast-paced groove with Afro-pop sensibilities on the Fela Kuti-inspired "Lady Revisited" with Angélique Kidjo, and a rap influenced cinematic reflection on Africa's pollution, "When Rivers Cry," featuring Common.
Born in Illinois, the daughter of immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda, Somi is a TED Global Fellow and also the founder of the New Africa Live nonprofit that champions African artists. For the last decade Somi has carved out a career of singing and being an activist. On The Lagos Music Salon, the best album of her young career, she magically combines the two facets of her life. "I'm excited about this album," she says. "I allowed myself to abandon the boundaries of my comfort zone, but that gave me the room to explore and play with new ideas and inspiration."
All elegance and awe... utterly captivating!
Audio Mixer: Dave Darlington.
Liner Note Author: Teju Cole.
Recording information: Bass Hit Recording Studios, New York, NY; Bay 7 Studios, Los Angeles, CA; CAMP Studios, Lagos, Nigeria; Chiller Studios, New York, NY; Crooked Avenue Studios, New York, NY; Gani Fawehnmi Freedom Park, Lagos, Nigeria; MSR Studios, New York, NY; Natialo Productions Studio, Lagos, Nigeria; Obatala Studio, Brooklyn, NY.
Photographer: Glynis Carpenter.
The Lagos Music Salon is jazz hybrid singer and songwriter Somi's fourth studio full-length, and her debut for Sony's OKeh imprint. Sometime after her Live at Jazz Standard set in 2011, she moved from New York to Lagos, Nigeria, searching for a mercurial "something" that would open new directions for her voice. Keeping a diary there, she wrote down her experiences and observations, and stories she gathered. Here, she weaves them wholesale into song form. Recorded in Nigeria and New York City, the album features her American band -- guitarist Liberty Ellman, pianist/keyboardist Toru Dodo, Nigerian bassist Michael Olatuja, and drummer Otis Brown III -- and numerous African musical guests. Though Somi's music has always employed African influences, it's never been to this extent. These songs seamlessly integrate jazz, classy soul, and sophisticated pop with African melodic and modal themes, styles and rhythms. Their narratives are often delivered in griot-like manner. Opener "First Kiss: Eko Oni Baje" is a field-recorded dialogue with a Nigerian customs officer at the airport. It's one of several such bits here. "Love Juju #1" is a slippery, seductive number that enacts the "spell" of seduction through contemporary jazz, highlife, and King Sunny Ade's signature juju music. Angélique Kidjo guests on "Lady Revisited," which extrapolates Fela Kuti's original; its Afro-beat rhythms and pulsing modal vamp -- as well as a killer saxophone break -- are refracted through modern creative jazz. "Brown Round Things" relates the story of a young prostitute. Somi's delivery is heartbreaking in its restraint yet confronts the listener with the woman's side of the story, daring the listener to remain unmoved. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire delivers an accompanying fill, underscoring the meaning in each line and spiraling it out. "Akobi: First Born S(U)N" is funky, horn-driven jazz with a stretched-out bassline and an electric piano functioning like a kalimba; its group chorus is sung in Yoruban -- one of several dialects utilized here. "Four African Women" is gloriously militant in its sociopolitical statement (as are "Still Your Girl" and "Four.One.Nine"), but is delivered with bluesy phrasing -- à la Abbey Lincoln -- driven by Olatuja's infectious bassline, Dodo's spacy Rhodes, a serpentine Ellman solo, tight syncopated snare breaks by Brown, and a layered female backing chorus. The sultry, soulful quiet storm ballad "Last Song," is the set's first single, but is far from predictable as the drum kit and bassline pick up the tempo and break the melody open, transmuting the song's form without sacrificing its elegance. The Lagos Music Salon is not only Somi's finest recording to date, but stands with Dee Dee Bridgewater's classic Red Earth as an album that expertly explores the symbiotic relationship between American evolutionary music forms and their mirror image in modern African pop. It does so with a passionate conscience, a maestro's discipline, and the wide-angle vision of a true artist. ~ Thom Jurek