In New York City, Grammy-nominated singer, composer, playwright, and now actor Somi Kakoma (known in the jazz world simply as “Somi”) has just become the first Rwandan actor to debut on Broadway. Somi is currently starring as the title character of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” - a new play by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Obie-award winner Whitney White.
This dazzling world premiere welcomes you into a 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 neighborhood women.
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 production include the likes of Dominique Thorne (Wakanda Forever) and Nana Mensah (The Chair), who are also making their Broadway debuts.
Commenting on the milestone, Somi underscored that 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 humor 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. 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,” she said.
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.” The play has been extended twice with non-stop rave reviews. Currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, final performances of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” are being globally live streamed this weekend, November 18-19. Live and virtual tickets are available at jajabroadway.com
Also known as the first African woman to ever receive a Grammy nomination in any of the jazz categories, Somi became the first Rwandan ever nominated for a Grammy with her nod for Best Jazz Vocal Album 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.