Somi Kakoma Wins 2018 NAACP Arts Prize

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By Alexander Opicho

When the Literature Nobel Prize in 2016 went to Bob Dylan, the society of literature scholars in Kenya, as anywhere else in the world, was upset to the extent of concluding that maybe the Swedish are not serious with literature. The complaint was that music is not “literary enough” to get the recognition of literature Nobel Prize. This is when the words “literary purists” and “literary artistes” were used but angrily in several editorial pages of culture-focused magazines and newspapers in an effort to differentiate professional from artistic literati. That was two years ago. Yet again, history repeats itself.

Last month 2018, one of the top American literary and art prizes, the NAACP Arts Prize, was awarded to Rwanda-born Somi Kakoma for her musical work done in French under the title Petit Afrique. The prize’s panel, which recognises diverse art forms like poetry, drama, theatre, novel, music, spoken word and painting by African-American artists, chose to recognise Somi’s artistic abilities through for her musical work.

For the sake of those that don’t know Somi, she is unlike most of African jazz musicians – properly educated, just as her Rwandese name ‘Somi’ means (to be a scholar). She was born 32 years ago in Illinois, as Laura Kabasomi Kakoma Somi to Dr Ibulaimu Kakoma (deceased) from Rwanda and Elizabeth Nyarubona Kakoma from Tooro Kingdom, in Western Uganda. As a child, Somi lived with her father and mother in Kenya and Zambia where her father worked, before she went back to the US where she has defied all odds to study at one of the best American Universities up to post-graduate level and then establish herself as a jazz musician and singer.

Vogue Magazine describes hers as “super and all but rare type of elegance, awe inspiring and utterly captivating”. Face2Face Africa, the pan African online magazine published in Ghana, has congratulated her for winning the NAACP arts prize by commending her for talent-focused hard work.

Somi’s intellectually captivating music is not limited to America, but also spans continents and cultures. Her recording, The Lagos Music Salon that was done in Nigeria is acclaimed by Face2Face Africa as the kind of album that is full of “a complete new experience that evokes a place, an environment, a culture, and a new group of people”. Somi is an internationally-acclaimed jazz vocalist, guitarist and song writer; she is also the founder of the New Africa Live, an award-winning organisation that reinforces African culture through the arts. Just like Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Somi also has been once hosted at the TED talk show.

Somi lives in the Western Harlem. Her songs and musical work is focused on Africa and post-modern challenges of the world. Her messages range from wars in Africa, abuse of women, rape, identity, politics, North-South relations, African unity, love, dignity of African Americans and also human duty to protect environment, prostitution and genocide, among others.

Some of her songs and musical performances include The Making of Petite Afrique, The Lagos Music Salon, Last Song, Brown Round Things, and Ginger Me Slowly among others. It is this type of sensible use of musical talent that made the NAACP arts committee to recognise this Rwandese and African migrant in America during such turbulent times in which the American President has passionately condemned Africa as a land made up of “shithole” countries.

Congratulations, Somi! ^

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