Pulsing with Harlem’s rhythms and sonic ambiance, Somi’s Petite Afrique, is an homage to her New York City upper Manhattan neighborhood, and one of the Meccas of the African diaspora. In the village of Harlem, along west 116th Street from Malcolm X Boulevard to Frederick Douglass Boulevard, African immigrants build American lives. Populated predominantly by a Francophone, West African and Muslim community, this is a strip of Harlem that locals call “Little Africa” or “Petite Afrique:” a thriving corridor of hair shops and shea butters, bistros and self-taught tailors. Many of these working class residents — immigrants-cum-citizens — are now taxi drivers zipping other New Yorkers through the city they’ve called home since the 1980s.
Petite Afrique, Somi’s sophomore effort for OKeh/SonyMusic Masterworks, is a daring, relevant, refashioning of what “jazz” and “African music” mean. The album is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants in the United States. Equally anthropologist and writer, Somi’s songs both celebrate Harlem’s black experience and lament gentrification’s slow erasure of the vibrant African immigrant population from the historic neighborhood.