Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba
New York, NY – GRAMMY-nominated vocalist Somi has unveiled her new album Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba. The fifth studio record from the East African singer-songwriter honors the late South African singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba; and its March 4 release date marked what would have been Makeba’s 90th birthday. On the 27th of March she will launch the album in South Africa at Nirox, tickets available here
Zenzile: The Reimagination Of Miriam Makeba, is a celebration of the late Makeba’s invaluable musical contributions and messages of social justice. The album, which will be released 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.
In recognition of Makeba’s resonance throughout Africa and the diaspora, Somi invited several special guests to perform on Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba including 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. In addition to Gregory Porter, additional guests include Nigerian singer-musician Seun Kuti (Fela Kuti’s youngest son), and GRAMMY® Award-winning singer-songwriter and activist Angelique Kidjo.
Says Somi about her show at Nirox on the 27th of March: "It was so important for me to bring this project honouring Mama Miriam back to the very place she called home. I'm deeply indebted to so many South African artists and friends who have held my hand through and to this moment. From early conversations with uBabu' Hugh Masekela when I started thinking about making this project seven years ago to the generous offerings of the South African special guests on the album who stand firmly in her lineage and have taught me so much through their own work. In small and large ways, so many people have supported, taught, and reminded me of how her voice and legacy was and is truly Pan-African. That homegrown South African support is what gave me courage to try to locate her voice inside of my own and I am deeply grateful."
Hailed for her “African grooves, supple jazz singing and compassionate social consciousness … both serious and seductive” by The New York Times, Somi is known for her wide-ranging vocal technique and her original blend of modern jazz with African music styles. The multi-faceted singer, songwriter, playwright, and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan descent has built a career of transatlantic storytelling to give voice to issues of social justice, transnationalism, womanhood, and global constructions of Blackness.
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 celebratory reflection on 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 celebration of her Makeba’s milestone birthday, Somi will present a festive concert celebration of Miriam Makeba’s life at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City on March 19 at the theater’s Africa Now! festival. ‘Somi: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba’ will headline the Apollo’s annual festival. Special guests include jazz superstar Dianne Reeves and beloved South African legend Thandiswa Mazwai.
“I’m honored to celebrate the memory and music of Miriam Makeba on such a historic stage. In her autobiography, Makeba: My Story, Miriam reflects on her very first performance at The Apollo in September 1961 and all that it meant to her as a young African woman to sing in a place where so many great Black American voices she admired had stood before her. To me, that moment in her career speaks to the ability of her voice to connect and represent the Black experience from both sides of the Atlantic. It is that very generous community-building ethos in her work that has emboldened me to try to honor her life and voice in my own work. What a joy it is to have the opportunity to bring her story and spirit to Harlem, my longtime New York City neighborhood and a multi-generational nexus of global Black culture.”
The new album is a companion piece to the larger cultural memory work of Somi's original play, Dreaming Zenzile, which is based on the life of Miriam Makeba and will open Off-Broadway in New York City in June 2022 after touring across theaters in United States since Fall 2021. Somi is deeply thankful to The Miriam Makeba Estate, The Miriam Makeba Foundation, and Mama Africa Cultural & Social Trust for their support and permission to create this work.
Somi Kakoma is a GRAMMY®-nominated East African Jazz vocalist, songwriter, playwright, and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan descent. Her last album, Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band, was released shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately earned her a 2021 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. With that nomination, Somi became the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy jazz categories. The album also won the 2021 NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album category.
Somi has released seven acclaimed albums, scoring positions on the World Music, Jazz, and Heatseekers charts. Her previous songs have featured guests including Common, Angelique Kidjo, Aloe Blacc, 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 Mahlasela in celebration of South African democracy, and was invited by UN Secretary General to perform in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance 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