Somi (born June 6, 1981) is an American singer and songwriter of Rwandan and Ugandan descent.
Somi was born in Champaign, Illinois, while her father was completing post-doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When Somi was three years old, her family then moved to Ndola, Zambia, while her father worked for the World Health Organization. In the late 1980s when her father became a professor at the University of Illinois, they returned to Champaign, where Somi spent the rest of her childhood. She attended both University Laboratory High School and Champaign Central High School, and earned her undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and African Studies from the University of Illinois. She also holds a Master's degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in Performance Studies.
Armed with savvy business acumen, Somi mostly built her career independently while developing an original and hybrid sound she calls "New African Jazz". In 2007, SanaaHouse Productions licensed Somi's Red Soil In My Eyes to the Harmonia Mundi/World Village label for her first international distribution deal. The record received wide critical acclaim with the hit single "Ingele" that maintained a Top 10 position on U.S. World Music Charts for several months.
In 2009, Somi signed with independent record label ObliqSound. Her label debut If The Rains Come First was released in North America on October 27, 2009, and subsequently debuted at no. 2 on Billboard Magazine′s World Music Chart and no. 21 on Billboard′s Heatseekers Chart. The album features South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Somi's long-time mentor, as a guest on one track. In March 2011, Somi recorded her first live concert album at the legendary Jazz Standard in New York City. It was released on Palmetto Records in August 2011.
In 2011, Somi was named a TED Fellow and an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow. She is also the founder of the award-winning non-profit organization New Africa Live.
In 2013, Somi signed her first major label deal with Sony Music to become one of the first artists on their relaunched historic jazz imprint Okeh Records. Her album and major label debut The Lagos Music Salon, which features Grammy-winning special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common and debuted at #1 on US Jazz Charts, was inspired by an 18-month sabbatical she took in Lagos, Nigeria. On the heels of much critical acclaim and a rapidly growing fan base, The Huffington Post and other publications dubbed Somi "the new Nina Simone."
She currently lives in New York City.