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Somi: The Lagos Music Salon

Dan Bilawsky By

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To most people, the junction of New York and Lagos, Nigeria may not seem like a natural place for an album to take shape. Somi, thankfully, thought otherwise. This worldly and well-traveled vocalist makes it seem like the most natural of meeting points on The Lagos Music Salon.

Somi's music has always been informed by African, R&B and soul influences, but an eighteen month stay in Lagos helped her dig deeper into the African cultural soil than she ever had before. The resultant album, powerful, cool, vibrant, sly and lively all at once, could be considered the latest and most developed strain of "New African Jazz" that she's produced yet: that's a term Somi herself coined to describe her music a while back, but it fits this one like a glove.

The music and the stories Somi tells often seem to counter each other in color and emotion, a striking separation that makes the whole Lagos Music Salon experience all the more powerful. Sultry settings and strong messages share space as Somi smoothly sings of somebody whose two dollar salary won't cover the trip home because of the outrageous fuel costs in Nigeria ("Two-Dollar Day"); jubilant music creates a cushion for Somi and guest vocalist Angelique Kidjo as they give due to Fela Kuti while simultaneously delivering a message of female empowerment ("Lady Revisited"); and a bass groove sets the stage as the lady in charge gives a nod to Nina Simone's "Four Women," singing of four different horrors that befall African women ("Four African Women"). Whether singing of dead serious topics like these or riffing on more benign matters, Somi is beguiling.

While the album itself speaks to African topics and ideals, a New York river of talent runs through it all. Drummer Otis Brown III creates solid rhythmic platforms and occasionally channels his inner Tony Allen ("Lady Revisited"); pianist Toru Dodo is spellbinding, whether shimmering, firmly putting his two hands to good use, or delivering poignant accompaniment in an intimate trio setting with Somi and guest trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire ("Brown Round Things"); guitarist Liberty Ellman manages to channel the African spirit in his every gesture; and bassist Michael Olatuja is a grounding and grooving presence. Together, with Somi out front, they create music that resonates on an emotional level.

Track Listing: First Kiss: Eko Oni Baje; Love Juju #1; Lady Revisited; Ankara Sundays; Ginger Me Slowly; When Rivers Cry; Brown Round Things; The Story Of Monkey; Akobi: First Born S(U)N; Two-Dollar Day; Still YOur Girl; Four.One.Nine; Love Nwantinti; Four African Women; Hearts & Swag; Love Juju #2; Last Song; Shine Your Eye.

Personnel: Somi: vocals; Toru Dodo: piano; Michael Olatuja: bass; Keith Witty: drum programming, double bass; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Otis Brown III: drums; Abraham Lanlate: talking drum; Cobhams Asuquo: percussion, drum programming, vocals; Alicia Olatuja: vocals; Angelique Kidjo: vocals (3); Cochemea Gastelum: saxophone; Ayanda Clarke: percussion; Conrad Harris: violin; Pauline Kim Harris: violin; Caleb Burhans: viola; Peter Sachon: cello; Re Olunuga: vocals; Karibi Fubara: vocals; Michael Boyd: drum programming; Common: vocals (6); Sheldon Thwaites: drums, percussion; Sula Kalski- Caines: vocals; Neema Lazzaroni: vocals; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (7); Wura Samba: percussion; Priscilla Nzimiro: vocals; Christophe Panzani: flute; Olaitan Dada: vocals; Chima Eluwa-Henshaw: vocals; Uzo Enemanna: vocals.

Title: The Lagos Music Salon | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Okeh

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