Inspired by Makeba, singer Somi hopes latest offering lives up to Mama Africa

Somi Kakoma's new album, 'Zenzile: The reimagination of Miriam Makeba' honours the legendary South African singer and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba.

The daughter of immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, born in Illinois - an acclaimed vocalist, composer, and writer Somi Kakoma will be releasing her album 'Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba'. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - The daughter of immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda and born in Illinois, acclaimed vocalist, composer and writer Somi Kakoma will be releasing her album, Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba.

The album honours groundbreaking South African singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba and features special guests Thandiswa Mazwai, Msaki, Nduduzo Makhathini, Angelique Kidjo, Gregory Porter, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Seun Kuti and more.

The album is a celebration of the late Makeba’s invaluable musical contributions and messages of social justice. The album will be released on 4 March, which would have been Mama Africa's 90th birthday.

Somi, as she's known in the industry, has built a career of transatlantic sonicism and storytelling.

The artist's last album Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Salon Africana 2020) was released shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, earning her a 2021 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

This made her the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy jazz categories. She also won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album.

Makeba, who died in 2008 aged 76, was one of the most visible and outspoken opponents of South Africa's apartheid regime from the 1960s till its dismantling in the early 1990s.

Makeba's music career launched her from township singing group to global celebrity, celebrated in some countries and banned from others.

In 1960 while living in the US, Makeba tried to return to South Africa for her mother’s funeral, but she discovered that her passport had been revoked by the South African government.

In 1963, Mama Africa testified about apartheid at the United Nations and her South African citizenship was taken away from her and her records were banned in South Africa.

The album - Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba - which will be released on the artist’s Salon Africana label, features Somi’s renditions of some of Makeba’s best known songs - both Makeba’s own compositions and covers.

Hailed for her “African grooves, supple jazz singing and compassionate social consciousness … both serious and seductive” by The New York Times, Somi is known for her wide-ranging vocal technique and her original blend of modern jazz with African music styles.

The multi-faceted singer, songwriter, playwright and actor of Rwandan and Ugandan descent has built a career of transatlantic storytelling to give voice to issues of social justice, transnationalism, womanhood, and global constructions of Blackness.

Regarded as one of Africa’s first international superstars, Makeba - whose given name is ‘Zenzile’ (the name Zenzi from the Xhosa Uzenzile, meaning "you have no one to blame but yourself") - elevated the spirit of a continent, including her native South Africa.

Her courage, however, was met with three decades of political exile from her homeland followed by blacklisting in the United States after her marriage to civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.

Somi’s lifelong love of Makeba’s music and personal strength led to a record that she hopes will inspire a celebratory reflection on Makeba’s life and work.

“This album is my attempt to honour the unapologetic voice of an African woman who inevitably made room for my own journey and countless other African artists. In short, I owe her. We all do," said Somi.

In recognition of Makeba’s resonance throughout Africa and the diaspora, Somi invited a number of special guests to perform on the record. From South Africa, Grammy-winning male vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singer-songwriter Msaki, vocalist and activist Thandiswa Mazwai, and jazz pianist-composer Nduduzo Makhathini join Somi for the tribute. Guests also include Grammy-winning American jazz singer Gregory Porter, Nigerian singer-musician Seun Kuti (Fela Kuti’s youngest son), and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and activist, Angelique Kidjo.

The album can be pre-ordered at https://orcd.co/zenzile.