When Somi was growing up, her mother told her that the rain, ever unpredictable, could be as much a blessing as a challenge. The blessings might come before the rain, or they could come after—it's all in the timing, she said. That notion has stayed with the charismatic singer and songwriter all her life and now provides a metaphorical focus for her third album, If The Rains Come First. The album, which releases October 13 on ObliqSound, is a stunning collection of self-penned story-based songs, a meditation on opening ourselves up to life's blessings and challenges much in the way that we accept the rain and all that it brings.
If the Rains Come First builds upon elements that first surfaced on Somi's two previous recordings: the electric soul-jazz of 2003's Eternal Motive (SanaaHouse) and the acoustic, culture-merging elegance of 2007's multilingual Red Soil in My Eyes (World Village/Harmonia Mundi). But her further evolution becomes immediately apparent as If the Rains Come First unfolds. Singing in English and three East African languages, Somi's vocal delivery is subtle yet the power she exerts is enormous.
Optimism, conviction and resilience are hallmarks of Somi's new creations—these are songs of survival and awareness. "Changing Inspiration" speaks of surveying the present, remembering lessons of the past, and allowing both to inform and inspire the possibilities of the future. "Jewel of His Soul" was motivated by Somi's Parisian encounter with a homeless Senegalese man who had been an intellectual in his homeland before falling on harder times in his adopted country. "Kuzunguka," which means "turning around" in Swahili, celebrates Somi's father's successful fight against cancer. "Be Careful, Be Kind" expresses Somi's emotional response to a young cousin's tragic death in a car accident and her family's coming to peace with it. "Prayer To the Saint of the Brokenhearted," reflects on the sense of helplessness and hopelessness one often feels after heartache, while serving as a reminder of the possibilities of faith and renewal. And the title track offers assurance that we can always go home for grounding, support and love.
At the core of each of Somi's highly personal and intimate tales are shared emotions and experiences of love, life, loss and learning. "Enganjyani," which means 'most beloved' in Rutooro, the language spoken by Somi's Ugandan mother, refers to, as she puts it, "the memory of whispered prayer and being haunted by a past lover." The track features the legendary Hugh Masekela, a longtime Somi fan who has become a mentor, guesting on trumpet.