It’s hard to decide what is most exciting about The Lagos Music Salon, the major label debut of Illinois-born, East African singer-songwriter Somi—her exquisite voice or the emotional intensity of her poetic lyrics. With a voice that has been compared with the likes of Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba, Somi’s music reflects both her passion for her African heritage and her jazz background. She can write socially conscious songs with political messages, and she can write a deceptively simple love song. The new album is filled with both.
“When Rivers Cry,” where she is joined by Common, is an eloquent ecological lament for a time when “the trees remember days of plenty,” in a world with “Feet crushing plastic/Moving windows tossing bottles dry.” “Ginger Me Slowly” could easily have been a conventional love song in other hands, but what Somi has written is a metaphorically memorable demand for something deeper than the clichés of romance: “Ginger me with dreams of love and faithfulness/Ginger me, boy, with your heart.” And these are just two examples from the more than a dozen equally intelligent compositions that fill the album.
As far as the unconventional love songs are concerned, perhaps the album’s masterpiece is “Last Song,” an absolutely brilliant lyric delivered with honest passion and vocal creativity. “Love Juju #1,” on the other hand, takes a jazzy Afro-pop turn, while “Four, One, Nine,” presumably a metaphoric reference to the Nigerian Scam, is a much darker vision: “No fairy tales, no expectations.”
The songs that deal with social problems often focus on women’s issues. “Two-Dollar Day” deals with the life of a widow “on the road/She got floors to clean.” “Four African Women,” based on Nina Simone’s “Four Women” references genocidal loss of her family for one woman and the use of skin bleaching creams for another. “Brown Round Things” is a noir ballad that focuses on the life of the streetwalker with some very effective trumpet solo work from Ambrose Akinmusire behind the vocal.
All in all, The Lagos Music Salon offers not only some beautiful music, but some important ideas as well. Somi is a voice to be reckoned with.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00L9JDACG]