Grammy-award winning American singer and songwriter Gregory Porter may have been the evening’s headline act on Thursday night at Jazz at the Lincoln Center, The Ramp on Rodney Bay in St Lucia. But it was female jazz vocalist “Somi” who stole the show St Lucia Jazz Festival.
From beginning to end, the performer, born Laura Kabasomi Kakoma, had the audience completely enthralled with her powerful, extraordinary vocal inflections that reverse but simultaneously oddly transcends time.
She was no “stand up straight and sing” type of performer, as she utilised the stage interacting with her band members and at times dancing energetically or moving her body in tune to her offerings. She even invited T&T’s very own jazz musician Etienne Charles on stage at one point to help her as she sang one her songs off her new album Petite Afrique, which won the NAACP Image Award for outstanding album.
There was a strong African influence and manifestation in her performances and even in the “cry” in her voice–reminiscent of what was known as “negro spirituals” during the days of slavery. Perhaps this is because of her Rwandan and Ugandan roots, which she warmly embraces, so much so that she shares her story of moving to Harlem in New York City to remain close to her rich African heritage, which she finds visible there.
In a bright yellow full-length dress with cascading ruffles and matching head-wrap, Kakoma delivered with graceful zeal each of her songs, sung over her one-hour stint on stage.
Her compositions were a combined passion of protest and melody– changing the narrative of story-telling in song.
It did not take much to realise she is a very socially conscious person, as this was evident in the many songs she sang which addressed the social infirmities of the world, including the misogyny and struggles of women. She illustrated this well when she sang of a woman who dared to dream although she has a difficult life. She underscored this in the song titled–Two Dollar Day–a crowd favourite, which again spoke of the woman experiencing economic challenges while trying to raise her children. She also spoke in between her performances on her depiction of the dignity of immigrants–who make their homes where they choose to or where they can, before mentioning the plague of domestic violence, saying these issues are all relevant. Whatever the inspiration for her songs, Kakoma effortlessly connected with her audience, who felt her every emotion from within, conveyed in each note.
Towards the end of her set, it was not surprising that she received a standing ovation and an encore, to which she then treated the audience to a rendition of the late Nina Simone’s “To be Free.”
In an interview with Guardian Media, Kakoma, 38, said she tries to be a witness to her own experiences and experiences around her. Asked if this is intentional, she explained it’s more of her own processing of an issue.
“If I write about something, then it helps me move through my own questioning of a situation that I might think is tragic or inspiring and then obviously having a platform as an artist, it allows you to share those stories with a larger audience,” she said.