For Jazz-infused Soul Singer Somi, the Call of Lagos, Nigeria,…

Jazz singer Somi’s career is infused with the spirit of Africa. Somi taps into the vibe of Lagos, Nigeria, the continent’s “creative giant,” for her new album. Photo: Glynis Carpenter

Jazz singer Somi’s career is infused with the spirit of Africa. Somi taps into the vibe of Lagos, Nigeria, the continent’s “creative giant,” for her new album. Photo: Glynis Carpenter

Jazz singer Somi’s career is infused with the spirit of Africa.

For jazz-infused soul singer Somi, the call of Lagos, Nigeria, wasn’t ancestral or political. As the daughter of East African immigrant parents from Rwanda and Uganda, she has spent a good deal of time on the continent exploring her hybrid identity. But the 18-month sojourn that led to the creation of her efficiently exploratory new album “The Lagos Music Salon” was all about tapping into the roiling creativity of Africa’s largest city.

“Of course I love Fela, but there are so many places in Africa where I could say I love the music,” says Somi, 33, a TED Fellow who makes a rare Bay Area appearance at the Red Poppy Art House with two shows nightly on Friday and Saturday. “I chose Lagos because of the cultural economy of Nigeria. It’s really become the creative giant on the African continent in music, fashion, film and art. I just wanted to plug into that energy.”

Within the first weeks of her arrival in 2011, Somi found a resourceful creative ally in producer Cobhams Asuquo, best known in the West for his work with Nigerian soul star Asa. He helped Somi recruit a wide and disparate cast of Nigerian musicians, players she performed with in a series of informal salons. With her silky-smooth voice serving as the project’s glue, she turned the sessions into an extension of New Africa Live, the non-governmental organization she founded to showcase contemporary African artists.

Back home in New York City, Somi connected with Beninese star Angélique Kidjo, who’s featured on the Fela-inspired “Lady Revisited,” and the rapper Common, who joins her on the environmental plea “When Rivers Cry.” They won’t be on hand this weekend, but considering the intimate confines of the Red Poppy, Somi performs with an almost ridiculously talent-laden ensemble built around her longtime New York collaborators, Japanese-born pianist Toru Dodo and guitarist Liberty Ellman, a standout on the 1990s Bay Area jazz scene.

Bassist Ben Williams, winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition, and drummer Otis Brown III, who releases his debut album, “The Thought of You,” Tuesday on Blue Note, round out her band.

As an artist who learned her craft by seeking out players thriving in multiple musical circles, Somi has forged close ties with some of the best African jazz musicians, from the great Senegalese guitarist Herve Samb to South African trumpet legend Hugh Masekela, who both contribute to her 2009 album “If the Rains Come First.”

“I never set out to be a jazz vocalist, but jazz is the genre that demands and privileges the individual voice among the ensemble,” Somi says. “Jazz welcomes that in-between place where we’re finding our way and creating our own narrative.”

Andrew Gilbert is a freelance writer who is available for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. E-mail: 96hours@sfchronicle.com

If you go

Somi: 7 and 8:40 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $25-$30. Red Poppy Art House, 2698 Folsom St., S.F. (415) 826-2402. www.redpoppyarthouse.org.

Source: sfgate

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