SALON AFRICANA is a boutique arts and social impact firm founded by award winning vocalist and writer Somi Kakoma. We produce and curate experiences that strive to challenge homogenized notions of African cultural production. We celebrate artists whose work in the performing, visual and literary arts interrogates African identity politics with a cosmopolitan spirit, the vigor of urban hybridization, and a deep connection to heritage. We invite audiences to reimagine the global Black experience and to honor the transnational, immigrant, and indigenous communities these artists emerged from.
ABOUT SOMI. Acclaimed vocalist and writer Somi was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. She is known for her wide-ranging vocal technique, her original blend of modern jazz with African musics, and the innate poetry of her songwriting that often gives voice to issues of social justice, transnationalism, womanhood, and global constructions of Blackness. Her latest recording, Petite Afrique (Sony/OKeh), which recently won a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants and the gentrification of Harlem’s vibrant West African quarter. Her previous album and major label debut, The Lagos Music Salon (Sony/Okeh) debuted at #1 on international and U.S. jazz charts. Guest collaborators on her albums include Common, Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masekela, and Aloe Blacc. Somi is a TED Senior Fellow, a USA Doris Duke Fellow, a 2018 Soros Equality Fellow, and an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow. Currently, Somi is developing a modern jazz play that she wrote about legendary singer-activist Miriam Makeba that will premiere in Spring 2020.
WHY SALON AFRICANA? Building on an audience engagement approach that she often employs in her own tours, Somi has always privileged the use of cultural space to give agency, voice, and visibility to contemporary African experiences. The seedlings of various community-based arts initiatives began to be nurtured back in 2008, when Somi founded the award-winning nonprofit organization New Africa Live as an effort to carve out a much needed cultural space of belonging for contemporary African artists by producing multidisciplinary arts events to entertain, educate, and create awareness of the value of African culture in a globalized world. New Africa Live became a major disruption within the New York arts presenter establishment because the event identified clear blind spots in both cultural programming and audience/market outreach. Thoughtfully bridging this gap, Somi was able to introduce the likes of Somali hip-hop emcee K’Naan, Nigerian soul-singer Asa, Soweto art-rock band BLKJKS, Kenyan indie collective Electric Golden, and many other buzz-generating artists to the New York market while catering to a grossly underserved African audience who had rarely seen representations of their communities or experiences on stage. Despite the now feverish interest in African culture today, there is an urgent need for more intentional spaces of cultural belonging that ensure that a nuanced and artful representation of contemporary African experiences are more widely seen on the global cultural stage.