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With a two-concert engagement sponsored by NC State LIVE (a division of Arts NC State), international singer-songwriter and recording artist Somi filled the Titmus Theatre with her incredibly unique, pan-African jazz and Harlem-influenced sound. Indeed, Somi's music is a kaleidoscope of languages, textures, and cultures. For this concert, the singer was joined by her self-described "band of friends," an extremely impressive jazz ensemble of four musicians from her home in New York City: drummer Otis Brown III, pianist Toru Dodo, guitarist Liberty Ellman, and bassist Keith Witty. The program was performed in one continuous set, consisting of selections from Somi's latest two studio albums (The Lagos Music Salon and Petite Afrique, both recorded with Sony Music). Overall, though, the performance was a wonderful musical experience for both old and new fans of Somi's music.
The concert began with a sort of "awakening" – as the four instrumentalists warmed up with improvisatory, soft phrases, a bare-footed, meditative Somi strode onstage and echoed the same texture as the instruments. Despite this gentle opening, Somi's stage presence from this moment was commanding, but in a way that used zero gimmicks – every movement, articulation, and expression of her voice was somehow both intentional and natural. The rhythm became more free here and exploded into Somi's song "Black Enough," a proud, fiery confrontation that demands an answer to the question, "Am I black enough for you?". With this song and beyond, Somi showcased her resonance throughout her vocal range as well as her passionate delivery of every lyric. Also captivating was her band – in a jazz style, the entire concert featured many moments of solo-spotlighted improvisation from piano, bass, guitar, and drums alike.
In "The Gentry," another powerful number speaking about gentrification, the piano solo by Dodo was incredible, and showcased not only his technical and emotional skill but also the unified nature of Somi's ensemble. This was true for all solos, where the five musicians vibed together and supported one another, also matching their expression and articulation seamlessly in these moments and throughout the concert.
Calmer highlights of the program were twofold. First, the song "Ginger Me Slowly," which was a soulful love song that began with just Ellman on the guitar and snapping on the beat and grew into a lush, dreamy soundscape with Somi's vocals rising above. The penultimate number, "Last Song" started only with Somi's clear, intentional voice singing heartfelt phrases like, "If this were my last song, would you try to remember everything?". Then, the music blossomed; the lyrics of this song when combined with Somi's delivery of them was especially moving.
In short, every element of this performance worked together to create a memorable and moving concert. It is not uncommon to experience a concert with well-written music and talented performers, but it is less common to attend a concert where the audience leaves feeling that their mood has been uplifted and their soul has been filled. This performance by Somi and her band was absolutely in the latter category.