News

Somi 'When Rivers Cry ft. Common'

Stream Somi's "When Rivers Cry," a tribute to Wangari Maathai featuring a verse from Common.


NY-based Ugandan/Rwandan songstress Somi is readying the release of her major label debut The Lagos Music Salon for Sony Music’s OKeh Records. "When Rivers Cry," the second single off that upcoming album, was written on the day Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai — a champion of environmental protection, women’s rights, and political activism — died. Somi explained to The Wall Street Journal,

“I was in Lagos on that day and couldn’t help but reflect on the pollution that plagues most major African cities... ‘When Rivers Cry’ is meant to be a rumination on Africa’s environmental past, present and future. Obviously, these issues are a part of a global conversation—that’s why I decided to invite Common to collaborate on the song. His verse reminds us of the responsibility and thoughtfulness we all owe to this earth—no matter where we are from.”

The single kicks off with an intricately-arranged orchestral intro that flows into Somi's somber and piano-backed refrains about environmental issues across Africa, with Common joining in for his verse around the 3-minute mark. Stream "When Rivers Cry" in its entirety below. Somi's The Lagos Music Salon, due August 5, is available for pre-order now. For more, watch Somi's video for "Last Song" and check out Okayafrica TV's episode with Common & Femi Kuti at Central Park.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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