Somi's jazz at the Grammys

Monday December 07 2020

Musician SOMI's last performance at Kigali during her 2018 musical Tour. PHOTO | Andrew. I Kazibwe


US-based Rwandan jazz vocalist and songwriter Somi’s Holy Room – Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band has been nominated for the Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards scheduled for January 31, 2021 at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

Somi’s album will battle it out with Thana Alexa’s Ona, Kurt Elling’s Secrets Are the Best Stories featuring Danilo Pérez, Carmen Lundy’s Modern Ancestors, and Kenny Washington’s What’s The Hurry.

Somi becomes the first African woman to be nominated in any of the jazz categories and the first African artist to be nominated for a jazz vocal performance in the awards’ history.

This year the awards – which recognise and award outstanding musical acts in the music industry – will be hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah.

The album

Released in July this year, Holy Room – Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band was recorded in an 18th Centuryopera house during a live concert in May 2019.


The album features eleven songs: Kadiatou the Beautiful, Ankara Sundays, Black Enough, Alien, Gentry, Like Dakar, Two Dollar Day, Last Song, Lady Revisited, Ingele, and Holy Room. The songs are from Somi’s previous releases reimagined into soft orchestral arrangements by award-winning conductor John Beasley, alongside other instrumentalist lead by Hervé Samb and Toru Doro. 

The Frankfurt Radio Big Band accompanies the honey-voiced singer with flourishing neatness and freshness throughout the concert.

The album pays tribute to Africanness not only through the naming of some of the song titles but also in the musician’s strong vocals, which carry the African sound through the accent.

If Somi, who signed her first major record deal with Sony Music in 2013, bags the grammy, it will add to her other awards. In 2018, her album Petite Afrique (Sony Jazz) won Outstanding Jazz Album at the 49th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards, a US-based event which honours outstanding representations and achievements of African-Americans in motion pictures, television, music, and literature. 

With this achievement, Somi joined the ranks of great musical acts such as Prince, Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, and va DuVernay.

As part of her East African tour, Somi staged an exclusive live musical performance on February 13, 2018, at the Kigali Marriott Hotel.

Somi, born Laura Kabasomi Kakoma, has been described as a modern-day Miriam Makeba by the JazzTimes magazine for her fusion of the refi ned boldness of the legendary American classical singer Nina Simone and the vocal beauty of jazz maestro Dianne Reeves.

Among the songs for which the 39-year-old Afro-jazz soul, blues and pop Rwandan-Ugandan is known are Ginger Me Slowly, Ingele, and Last Song. Somi boasts of seven albums, notably Red Soil in My Eyes (2007), If the Rains Come (2009), Sabai to Sukhi Hote Chay (2010), Lagos Music Salon (2014), Petite Afrique (2017), Shwshur Amar Asur (2017) and Holy Room-Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band (2020).