Live Music: UCSD's ArtPower will warm the new year with African soul

Unyka Omtsha! That's "happy new year" in Xhosa, one of the languages you'll be hearing sung this month and next when ArtPower brings a soulful trifecta of African singers and musicians to two UC San Diego concert venues as part of this season's Global Music series.

First up is Somi, a first-generation American whose parents came from Rwanda and Uganda. Having spent time in several African countries, she uses her rich, liquid voice to tell their stories. Her songs are bluesy and entrancing, and she's been called "a new high priestess of soul." Her latest album, "Petite Afrique," is a tribute to her immigrant neighbors in Harlem, where she now makes her home.

"I originally saw her a few years ago at the Winter Jazzfest in New York and was completely mesmerized," said Molly Clark, ArtPower's associate artistic director. "She's really in demand now, working across genres with artists like Paul Simon, Mos Def, and John Legend. And she's also an advocate for artists with New Africa Live, a non-profit she started to raise awareness of African performers, visual artists and writers."

This will be Somi's debut appearance in San Diego, and she's sure to widen her fan base in The Loft's intimate setting on Jan. 10.

A month later, on Feb. 12, The Loft will be filled with the powerful voice of Msaki, a South African singer/songwriter/guitarist who sings about love, loss, revolution and hope. Starting out in an alt-rock band, she went on to study visual arts in England and picked up the guitar there. Back in South Africa, she became a star of the indie music scene, won an arts scholarship to study in North Carolina, and then returned home to set up her own indie label. She now performs with a diverse band of musicians she calls the Golden Circle, who manage to sound both soulful and symphonic.

Then on Feb. 26, Malian singer, songwrite and guitarist Habib Koite comes to Price Center East Ballroom with Bassekou Kouyate, a master of the ngoni, an ancient West African lute.

The two will combine old and new sounds in what promises to be an unusually exciting evening.

Koite has become an Afro-pop superstar, performing at international music festivals and recording on the Putumayo World Music label. And talk about crossing genres! Kouyate has appeared with the Kronos Quartet, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Paul McCartney, and Bono.

This is ArtPower's 15th anniversary season, and there's lots more to see and hear. Check out the full schedule at artpower.ucsd.edu

• IF YOU GO: Somi, Jan. 10, 8 p.m. at The Loft. $23-$35. Msaki and The Golden Circle, Feb. 12, 8 p.m. at The Loft. $20-$30. Habib Koite and Bassekou Kouyate, Price Center East Ballroom. $25. Tickets: (858) 534-8497. All venues mentioned are located on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla. Directions: artpower.ucsd.edu/visit/campus-map/

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