Somi – If The Rains Come First

If The Rains Come First
ObliqSound – 2009

When Somi was growing up, her mother told her that the rain, ever unpredictable, could be as much a blessing as a challenge. The blessings might come before the rain, or they could come after–it’s all in the timing, she said. That notion has stayed with the charismatic singer and songwriter all her life and now provides a metaphorical focus for her third album, If The Rains Come First. The album, which releases October 13 on ObliqSound, is a stunning collection of self-penned story-based songs, a meditation on opening ourselves up to life’s blessings and challenges much in the way that we accept the rain and all that it brings.

If the Rains Come First builds upon elements that first surfaced on Somi’s two previous recordings: the electric soul-jazz of 2003’s Eternal Motive (SanaaHouse) and the acoustic, culture-merging elegance of 2007’s multilingual Red Soil in My Eyes (World Village/Harmonia Mundi). But her further evolution becomes immediately apparent as If the Rains Come First unfolds. Singing in English and three East African languages, Somi’s vocal delivery is subtle yet the power she exerts is enormous.  

At the core of each of Somi’s highly personal and intimate songs are shared emotions and experiences of love, life, loss and learning. “Enganjyani,” which means ‘most beloved’ in Rutooro, the language spoken by Somi’s Ugandan mother, refers to, as she puts it, “the memory of whispered prayer and being haunted by a past lover.” The track features the legendary Hugh Masekela, a longtime Somi fan who has become a mentor, guesting on trumpet.  

Surrounded by a cast of virtuosic collaborators who understand precisely where she’s going and how to get there, Somi burrows deeply into her words and ultimately something transcendent emerges. Her vision was shared by the album’s co-producers, ObliqSound co-founder Michele Locatelli and Backdrop/ObliqSound labelmate Michael Olatuja, both of who also perform on the album.  The percussive thrust at the heart of African music is a fundamental component of If the Rains Come First, brought to bear by an all-star African rhythm section of Ivorian percussionist Madou Kon�, Senegalese guitarist Herve Samb, and Nigerian bassist Olatuja. Longtime collaborators Toru Dodo (Fender Rhodes and piano), and Liberty Ellman and David Gilmore (guitar) are also among the exemplary musicians who provide additional coloring to flesh out the album.  

“The songs on this album reflect where I am emotionally and spiritually today,” Somi continues. “At the end of the day, I still know who I am and where home is before, during, and after the rain–it’s in the music.”