News

by Melanie Christodoulou
posted 12/06/2017

Album of the Week – ‘Petite Afrique’ by Somi

Pulsing with Harlem’s rhythms and sonic ambiance, Somi’s Petite Afrique is an homage to her New York City upper Manhattan neighborhood, and one of the Meccas of the African diaspora.  In the village of Harlem, along west 116th Street from Malcolm X Boulevard to Frederick Douglass Boulevard, African immigrants build American lives. Populated predominantly by a Francophone, West African and Muslim community, this is a strip of Harlem that locals call “Little Africa” or “Petite Afrique:” a thriving corridor of hair shops and shea butters, bistros and self-taught tailors.  Many of these working class residents — immigrants-cum-citizens — are now taxi drivers zipping other New Yorkers through the city they’ve called home since the 1980s.

Petite Afrique Somi’s sophomore effort for OKeh/SonyMusic Masterworks, is a daring, relevant, refashioning of what “jazz” and “African music” mean. The album is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants in the United States. Equally anthropologist and writer, Somi’s songs both celebrate Harlem’s black experience and lament gentrification’s slow erasure of the vibrant African immigrant population from the historic neighborhood. On her new album, Somi and her core bandmates—guitarist Liberty Ellman, drummer Nate Smith, pianist Toru Dodo, and bassist Michael Olatuja—perform with new emotional openness, sharp political insight, and infectious groove. A powerful horn ensemble featuring tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, alto man Jaleel Shaw, and acclaimed trumpeter Etienne Charles also appear on several tracks.

Charles also serves as associate producer on Petite Afrique, arranging the horn and string sections. Producer Keith Witty calibrates and binds all these musicians together into a finely textured, genre-bending sonic collage. Having also co-produced her last studio album, Witty and Somi continue to establish the standard for artfully interweaving modern jazz and African pop sensibilities. Somi’s commitment to storytelling is clear as she intersperses poetry and “backseat field audio” drawn mostly from several interviews she conducted with African taxi drivers who have lived in the neighborhood for over four decades.

Track Listing:

  1. Disappearing Act 1
  2. Alien
  3. Black Enough
  4. The Wild One
  5. They’re Like Ghost
  6. The Gentry ft. Allow Blacc
  7. Kadiatou The Beautiful
  8. Holy Room
  9. Disappearing Act II
  10. Let Me
  11. Blue
  12. Go Back to Your Country (Interlude)
  13. Like Dakar
  14. Midnight Angels

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