Rwandan star Somi makes Broadway debut

Somi Kakoma (known in the jazz world simply as Somi)

What you need to know:

  • First.  Somi, the Ugandan/Rwandan jazz vocalist has been scaling new heights with her music. After becoming the first Ugandan or Rwandan artist to get a Grammy nomination, she has taken on broadway, writes Bamuturaki Musinguzi.

Rwandan-Ugandan Grammy-nominated singer, composer, playwright and actor Somi Kakoma (known in the jazz world simply as Somi) has made her Broadway debut starring as the title character of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding.

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding is a new play by the award-winning Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play) and directed by Obie-award winner Whitney White (Our Dear Dead Drug Lord). It was globally live streamed from November 18 to 19, 2023.

The dazzling world première is set in Jaja’s bustling hair braiding salon in Harlem, New York City, where a lively and eclectic group of West African immigrant hair braiders are creating masterpieces on the heads of neighbourhood women.

During one sweltering summer day, love will blossom, dreams will flourish, and secrets will be revealed.

Somi Kakoma (known in the jazz world simply as Somi)

The uncertainty of their circumstances simmers below the surface of their lives and when it boils over, it forces a tight-knit community to confront what it means to be an outsider on the edge of the place they call home.

Other actors in the 90-minute production include the likes of Dominique Thorne (Wakanda Forever) and Nana Mensah (The Chair), who were also making their Broadway debuts.

“It has truly been a gift to share the stories of African women on the Broadway stage — especially a story that not only disarms audiences with so much humour but also lifts up the experience of African immigrants living in the United States. As a daughter of immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, I am fully aware of what it means to define ‘home’ in multiple places,” Somi said.

“I am also aware of the often-obscured challenges that Black immigrants in particular face under American immigration policies. More than anything, I hope this show invites people to think about our shared humanity and the ways in which we might find home in each other.”

Broadway is located in the center of Manhattan in New York City and is known as the global pinnacle of theatrical artistry. Housed in 41 theaters in the famed Theatre District of Times Square, it features some of the most talented performers - often launching many careers to Hollywood stardom.

On opening night of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding,” Somi took to social media to simply state that it was “a dream come true.”

In 2022, Somi released her award-winning album “Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba” honoring the great South African songstress Miriam Makeba. She won the prestigious 2023 Doris Duke Award - the United States’ largest prize dedicated to individual performing artists.

Also known as the first African woman to ever receive a Grammy nomination in any of the jazz categories, Somi became the first artist from Rwanda or Uganda to ever be nominated for a Grammy with her nod for “Holy Room: Live At Alte Oper” in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category in 2021. Even though this play is not a musical, her music fans will be happy to know that Somi is currently working on her next album for a 2024 release.