Check out the new video from Afro-soul singer Somi’s latest album, “If the Rains Come First.” In the video for the “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted,” the East African artist, who now calls Harlem her home, creates an ode to the legendary neighborhood by filming in front of the Apollo Theater and in the uptown music venue, the Shrine. At the forefront of a new roster of African artists grabbing attention here in America, Somi effortlessly blends her global and sonic experiences for a syrupy sweet listening experience. ESSENCE.com: Describe what the new song “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted” means to you? What was the inspiration? SOMI: It is really a story about a longing to move beyond heartache and heartbreak. I find the real tension of the song is that it’s sort of upbeat and it makes you want to dance. I’m talking about movement of the heart and movement in our lives, and how do we move forward after the pain. ESSENCE.com: Did you pen this song after a breakup? How personal are these lyrics? SOMI: Well, my music has a tendency to be very personal. I try to speak about things that I believe everybody has experienced. I think it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all, as they say. So, I hope that a lot of people can relate to it. And so it is personal, I would say that I have definitely gone through that, but it’s not necessarily my anthem. ESSENCE.com: You shot the video in Harlem and in front of the Apollo Theater. Why did you choose that iconic location? SOMI: I’m originally from East Africa, from Uganda and Rwanda, and I grew up in Illinois, but I’ve been living in New York for quite a few years now, and Harlem is my home. I love the neighborhood because it’s this cultural crossroads. It being Black Music Month and considering the history of what Black music has been in this particular community, in this particular neighborhood, whether it be in jazz, or in soul music at the Apollo, or even African music — this is one of the largest African immigrant neighborhoods in New York City — I feel so validated on so many different levels in this neighborhood and that’s why I really wanted to kind of capture the essence of it. I wanted to portray the romantic notion of falling in love in Harlem and being two African people walking through the streets of Harlem and being influenced by all these different things that I’m hoping people hear in the music as well, whether it’s jazz or soul or my roots from East Africa. ESSENCE.com: Where do you draw inspiration from musically? SOMI: Well, I definitely pull from various places because “home” is in various places for me. When I hear Sarah Vaughan sing, for example, it soothes my spirit and my soul in a certain way because I love her voice and I love her intention, but when I hear traditional folk songs from western Uganda or Rwanda, I immediately am moved as well in a very deep and special place because it reminds me of my mother singing me certain songs as a child. ESSENCE.com: You describe your music as “New African Soul.” To those who have never heard your music, what does that mean, what does that sound like? SOMI: Hopefully, it sounds like travel. Hopefully, people hear the different places that I’m from and not in a kind of pretentious, cosmopolitan way, but in a sincere way. Soul music does not necessarily mean that I grew up on Aretha, but focuses more on where the music’s coming from, and if it is sincere. The story that I’m trying to tell is the story of a new African trans-national woman. An African woman who grew up in the States, but has a deep connection to home… ESSENCE.com: Which is your story… SOMI: It’s a really exciting time for me, and I think for a lot of people with my shared social experience. Not to stray too far from music, but Barack Obama sort of validated the complex layers of the Black experience in the U.S. He is American, but he doesn’t have the same story that maybe we’re used to hearing about, the story that the media always presents as the Black story. There are a lot of people throughout the Diaspora who are very much Americans, but have these other layers. So, all of a sudden there’s an inclusivity — we’re a part of the conversation, a part the Black experience in the States, and hopefully we challenge ideas of where “we” are from. People have very limited ideas of who Africans are, and I’m hoping that my work as an artist and the work of many other people as Africans — whether they be in politics, or in music, or whatever it is that they’re doing — challenge set notions of the Black experience. ESSENCE.com: You’re part of a new generation of Africans who live both an African and American reality. How does that inspire your music? SOMI: There’s actually a lot of responsibility that comes with that. I think as artists we should never sort of take that platform for granted, that we’re given the opportunity to share our experiences, and to let people take a moment to listen. When I perform somewhere, I try not to take that opportunity for granted, and I try to tell a story that is sincere. I believe the Diaspora of Africa and the continent of Africa is experiencing a sort of renaissance right now. I mean, there’s so much art and music coming out of it. It’s an honor really to be a part of the moment, and that’s why I started the non-profit organization, New Africa Live. I produce shows that celebrate others. I do that every two to three months here in new York. I’ve had everyone from the BLK JKS, who are a South African rock band, to Somali MC, K’Naan, perform. Music is the focus. It started out as just a passion project and it just kept growing and the audience just kept growing and I realized I couldn’t lay it down. I see it as my life’s work as an artist to sort of uplift these other voices, and now it’s sponsored by the New York Foundation of the Arts. ESSENCE.com: Why do you love being a Black woman? SOMI: I love being a Black woman because my mother is a Black woman, because my grandmother is a Black woman, because those are the people that raised me and I celebrate their legacy and their lessons in the way that I try to live my life. I love being a Black woman because we are diverse, dynamic, and strong. So, I’m thankful for being a part of that.
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