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Somi Kakoma

Somi Kakoma, known in the jazz world simply as “Somi,” is a Doris Duke Artist in the jazz category. Somi is a vocalist, composer and writer whose music is guided by her experiences traversing the cultural bridge between Africa and America. Born in Illinois to parents who emigrated from Rwanda and Uganda and closely mentored by the legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela, Somi has carved out her own path as an artist, scholar and activist.

Somi’s latest album, “Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba” is a deeply personal tribute to the groundbreaking South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, and is a companion piece to Somi’s original play, “Dreaming Zenzile.” In October 2022, the album was awarded Best Jazz Vocal Performance at the inaugural Jazz Music Awards. Somi’s prior release, “Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band,” earned a 2021 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album, making Somi the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy jazz categories.

Somi’s previous studio album “Petite Afrique” showcases her supreme skill at storytelling, relaying the narrative of African immigrants in the midst of a gentrified Harlem. Known for her groundbreaking adeptness at integrating African and soul sensibilities into masterful jazz songs, her major label debut “The Lagos Music Salon”  featured special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common.

Somi holds undergraduate degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and is currently working on her Ph.D. at Harvard University’s Department of Music. She is a Soros Equality Fellow, a United States Artists Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, a Sundance Theatre Fellow and a former artist-in-residence at Park Avenue Armory, the Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva, Baryshnikov Arts Center and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. 

Her other accolades include multiple NAACP Image Awards and repeated ECHO Award nominations, among others. Often celebrated for the socio-political messages inherent in her songwriting, she performed at the United Nations’ General Assembly on request from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

She is also the founder of Salon Africana, a boutique cultural agency and record label.

Meet the 10th Anniversary Class of Doris Duke Artists