The Shuffle: Embracing African Beauty on Somi’s “Four African Women”

A reminder that no one defines beauty

Embracing who we are, what we are and what we are made of have long been recurring prophecies that seem to never go away. We hear it in speeches, in poems, in movies, songs and nearly any creative work of art that has ever been made. On social platforms we’ve seen it spin into tags like #blackgirlmagic, #blacklivesmatter, and #Melaninpoping. In music we’ve seen artists communicate how important it is to embrace blackness, as a response to the pervasive racism against people of colour. Few have made music as transcendental as Nina Simone. Her life and music is the quintessential example of what it means to reflect the happenings in the society. Her music has become a cultural touchstone for other artists who sample, recreate, and cover as homage.

JayZ’s recent single “The Story of O.J.” samples Nina Simone’s “Four Women” off his 4:44 album. But there is an older, more fitting homage. In 2014, Somi Kakoma, a neo-Afro Jazz singer-song writer of Rwandan and Ugandan descent, also reworked the song as part of her The Lagos Music Salon EP specifically highlighting  African genocide and skin colour into the narrative Nina originally created to tell of four stereotypes of African-American women in society.

Curiosity at how the Ugandan-Rwandan singer came to release an album titled The Lagos Music Salon, reveals it was inspired by an 18-month sabbatical she took in Lagos at the time.

Her version “Four African Women” speaks poignantly to the issues universal to African women, with a spotlight on women of the continent. Each verse referencing a different kind of woman, highlights a specific theme. “My forehead long…My eyes are hollow…My hair is woolly too”, Somi paints with her voice what she wants others to see in an African woman and what African women should see in themselves, as if instilling this pride of blackness gradually with her soothing voice in every note, but firmly into our minds. When she stops singing intermittently, Jazz snares and bass drums swell and wane, playing up the drama, emphasising the surging emotions her words conjure.

In this, Somi’s expression carries liberation for all women seeking to look at those who look to fairness as the classification specifier of beauty. “My skin is pink It used to be black My mirrors and my magazines Made me cry Discarded western bleaching creams”, she sings. Little doubt that themes and narratives like this places Somi Kakoma on the path Nina Simone trod on (and is still treading on), growing her a fan base and reviews from publications like Huffpost who have even called her “the new Nina Simone”. Female genital mutilation, colorism in the African continent, the brunt of genocide borne by women and children of slain soldiers and the pervasive sex trafficking trade are all touched on with an empathy that wells eternal.

If you listen closely enough, you’ll see that Somi is one of those opening doors to indeed show the world all about Africa. So when we speak of that Africa (music) to the world movement her name is equally worth mentioning along side any others. Her song “Four African Women” is a cultural signifier and compels persons to pin ears on the African truth.

Appreciate Somi Kakoma’s “Four African Women” below.

Feature Image Credit: Instagram/@somimusic

Fisayo is a journalist who thinks writing is hard and reading too. But her journey somewhere reveals, words are like pawns on chessboard when writing. She wants to see, create and share with the world, experience & communicate these experiences. Tweet at her @fisvyo

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