A few weeks ago, I sat down with local artist Lyric Nicole to discuss her new career in the business. This time around, I sat with Valenza, an up and coming Jazz artist from Central Florida (whom is also the label mate to Lyric) whom is on the cusp of releases his very first album. I had the honor to work with Valenza, real name Troy Harris, on a number of events including a music video and will have the pleasure to be working with him again very soon in the near future. Like a seasoned jazz artist, Valenza has the talent of picking up a jazz saxophone to play whatever comes to mind in an impromptu segment.
LAS VEGAS, NV – MAY 03: Kendrick Lamar attends the Mayweather Vs. Maidana Pre-Fight Party Presented By Showtime at MGM Garden Arena on May 3, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mindy Small/WireImage)
With the case of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines sparking controversy for, not only being incredibly creepy and rape-y, some copyright issues regarding music by Marvin Gaye and Funkadelic, you would think that covering yourself with a release for a sample would be the best thing for you. Someone didn’t tell Kendrick Lamar that. Lamar’s song Rigamortis, a track on his debut iTunes release Section.80, contained an un-cleared sample from musician Willie Jones III and Eric Reed.
The annual Essence Music Festival held in New Orleans is always a time for great music, great information and great inspiration. And at this year’s Essence Fest, Sosoactive.com had the opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with an up-and-coming artist that embodies all three of those traits. Acclaimed East African vocalist and songwriter Somi was at the 2014 Essence Music Festival to perform and talk about her new album, The Lagos Music Salon being released this summer. Born to immigrants of Rwandan and Ugandan background, Somi was seeking inspiration for her music three years ago and decided to relocate from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria for a year and a half. That inspiration and time in one of Africa’s most well known cities resulted in this new album containing influences from Jazz and R&B to at least a little bit of Afrobeat, yet is a project that stands on its own creative feet. Having been featured in Vogue, Billboard and Jazztimes, Somi continues her musical journey with The Lagos Music Salon and sat down with Sosoactive.com to discuss her new album, her musical influences and what her first Essence Festival experience has been like.
For those that are not yet aware of your music, please give us a glimpse into who Somi is as an artist.
I’m a professional singer with parents originally from east Africa, my parents Rwanda and Uganda, but I grew up in Illinois. I currently live in New York City, in Harlem. I have a new record coming out. It’s my fourth studio record but my first major label record. I feel very excited about it!
Who are some of the artists that have had a direct influence on your music? Are any of the artists performing over the weekend influences on your music?
I’m somebody that loves the classic voices. A lot of Nina Simone, a lot of Sarah Vaughn, a lot of Miriam Makeba, Ella Fitzgerald. More contemporary artists, I love Sade and Bjork. I love all sorts of music! But those are the artists that come to mind that have had a huge influence on my pursuit of freedom and my pursuit of my own sound and voice and approach.
The music of Fela Kuti has begun reaching more fans and generations of fans through the stage musical “Fela!” and the new documentary “Finding Fela”. Has your music been influenced by that of Fela’s at all?
I would say that Fela is one of the greatest African musicians that created his own sound, so in some ways I would say yes. I can appreciate his mash up of musical styles and being authentic with his vision. Am I doing Afrobeat? Not necessarily. But having spent time in Lagos, this record is all about that time and journey there. I had always listened to Fela, but actually being in the place where he is from and where the music is from, I realized that there was a whole other side of his music that I didn’t understand. That particular sound that he created, Lagos is the only place that could have come from. I decided to do one song as a nod to the inspiration and the energy that he gave me. He has a song called “Lady” and so I did a song called “Lady Revisited” and I have Angelique Kidjo on it as well.
What has your first experience with the Essence Festival been like?
It’s been lovely! It’s been great. I’ve only been here for 24 hours but it’s such a beautiful thing to see so many black women in one place for positive energy and experiences. Whether it’s about beauty or self-empowerment or new books or Prince being on stage, it’s such a beautiful and powerful thing. And it’s peaceful! I didn’t expect it to be this huge. But coming here and really seeing the numbers and seeing how people come out and how they come every year with their girlfriend or their man or their family, it’s such a beautiful thing and it’s such an honor to be a part of it and to share my worth in whatever way that I can.
Why was it important to you as an artist to come and perform at the 20th Annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans?
Well, just what Essence stands for; it’s the preeminent publication for black women. To be a part of that message and voice and platform is a blessing. Also, I just love what it stands for, and I love New Orleans. Mostly I’m just thankful to have a chance for me to reach new audiences and hopefully create a wider community of people that know my music.
Please tell us what music we can expect to hear from The Lagos Music Salon.
Well, I wanted the album to feel like a Salon, a room that gives the listener a sense of travel, a sense of what it is to be in Lagos, Nigeria, to witness the challenges, and also to have a sense of what I was observing as a non-Nigerian, a traveler and an artist. A lot of people talk about my music as if it’s jazz but it’s more than that. There’s the Fela tribute with Angelique Kidjo and the Afrobeat, I have one song with Common. Then there’s some soul stuff, and then there’s stuff that actually is jazz. I just wanted it to feel like a room with conversations between myself with the music, with my fellow artists, with the city, they can expect a lot of different colors and emotions, and really a sense of travel.
On The Lagos Music Salon you have guest performances from the likes of Angelique Kidjo and Common. Can you talk about anyone else on the project and what it was like to work with them?
I’ve also worked with Hugh Masakela, who is one of my dearest mentors. He’s hugely why I went Lagos initially by helping me with my global citizenship. He let me know that If I wanted to go and spend time on the continent that I should do that. He told me that as an artist, I’m a global citizen. So means you can share your art with one part of your audience in one part of this world. I was also a friend with John Legend when he was still John Stephens, who’s still accessible and still supportive.
Who is one artist alive today that would be a dream collaboration for you?
That’s a toss up for me. There are two people in particular. I would love to work with Meshell Ndegeocello; I think she’s a genius. And I would also love to work with B’jork. If I did a record with either or the two of them, it would be awesome.
To find out more about Somi and her upcoming album The Lagos Music Salon, visit www.somimusic.com. She can also be followed on Twitter at @Somimusic.
Everyone likes Robert Glasper. Including me. Two years ago, I first ran across the Trio (with Chris “Daddy” Dave and Derrick Hodge) watching a video of them at the NY Hip Hop Cultural Center. I became a fan after hearing his unique track “Silly Rabbit” and immediately purchased all three albums through Amazon. No, seriously–literally after hearing this track, I hopped on Amazon.
That was than and this is now. The Robert Glasper Experiment, composed of the same Hodge, sometimes Dave but “officially” Mark Colenburg on drums and Casey Benjamin. This quartet is certainly an experiment, a whole new sound and involves a lot of vocalists from Benjamin on his vocoder, Bilal (who appeared on the trio album also), Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle and a myriad of others, including rappers like Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def). The Experiment in a nutshell is more mainstream and friendly.
Initially, I was excited to hear the Experiment, especially jamming with rappers like Q-Tip, Mos Def, Common, Fiasco, remaking J-Dilla classics. Finally, I thought, a rebirth of Hip Hop lyricism over jazz. Then when I discovered the Experiment was making an album, I didn’t know what to expect. The single “Always Shine” featuring Fiasco and Bilal is simply amazing. The other more popular song is “Afro Blue,” a jazz standard, featuring Erykah Badu’s colorful lyrics. Both verses are the same 16 bars, but the imagery (Dream of a land my soul is from/I hear a hand stroke on the drum) and ambiguity (They gently sway/Then slip away/To some secluded place) is nothing less to expected from an underrated lyricist such as Badu.
(Video: Watch the live performance of “Always Shine” on the David Letterman Show. 5 star performance.)
With all of this praise for the album, one may think I am looking forward to Black Radio 2. I’m not.
I’m not a big fan of the shift in Glasper’s music. The aforementioned artists are not mainstream per se but they are pop(ular). BR1 is predominantly a neo-soul then jazz album. A fancier and different sounding neo-soul, if you will.
I love he is potentially converting neo-soul fans to jazz by exposing its jazz roots. But, unlike jazz, the music lacks spontaneity. Too safe. Doesn’t overly challenge neo-soul standards. One can’t listen to “Silly Rabbit” or “Jelly Da Beener” and tell me it doesn’t challenge jazz. I can’t think of any such track on BR1.
The new single “Calls” featuring Jill Scott could be a cut off of BR1. In fact, many other tracks on BR1 sound too similar and don’t venture out into what would constitute as an “experiment.” Glasper is capable of much more than that and it’s frustrating because I expected more; I believe he purposely went the safe route for appeal. After hearing “Calls” I am not rushing to hear BR2 but will during the week.
For R&B or neo-soul standards, the Experiment is amazing. For jazz standards, which I hold him to, it’s a let down. But holding him to jazz standards may be my mistake.
I’ve been covering Android games for awhile now, and I’m always on the lookout for something unique. Well, unique is exactly what I found in a Jazzy new Android game from Bulkypix called JAZZ: Trump’s Journey.
JAZZ: Trump’s Journey is a platform game that puts you into the role of a Jazz musician in early 20th century New Orleans. The game is supposed to be parallel to the real life story of Louis Armstrong, and while I don’t know how accurate it is, it’s a great concept (and fun) nonetheless. The controls behind Trump are simple to use; you’ll have two arrows that let you move around and a jump button. As you progress through the stylish stages of the game you’ll form you own Jazz band and even use your trumpet to stop time.
Lil’ Satchmo’s journey won’t be an easy one either as you’ll face danger at every turn. You will get some help along with way, mainly from your special Trumpet that can temporarily stop time.
JAZZ: Trump’s Journey offers gamers 13 funky levels, and while that may not seem like much there is plenty to keep you busy in the levels. You’ll have to collect around 80 music notes per level for a perfect score, and there are photos scattered throughout the levels as well. I’ve found several hidden places already, so I’m sure there are quite a few surprises waiting for you if you search the levels thoroughly. JAZZ: Trump’s Journey doesn’t have any real extras to speak of, but you can adjust a few options like Volume and Sound Effects. Not that you’d want to do that though, as the game has some outstanding music and sound effects.
The odd name and premise behind Jazz made me give it a go, and I’m glad I did. While the game doesn’t possess jaw dropping 3-D graphics, it does have a unique style that really sucks you into the game and gets you involved in the story. The graphics may fool you into thinking Jazz is easy, but you’re probably going to bite the dust more than once unless you’re a game guru of some sort. If you like music and games with a little soul, you’ll definitely want to pick up JAZZ: Trump’s Journey. You can find the game at the links below, and visit the Bulkypix’s website to check out more of their great offerings.