Letter to the Universe Peter Somuah
Label: ACT Music
Subgenre: Crossover Jazz
Artist: Peter Somuah
Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)
- 1The Universe02:26
- 2Mission on Earth03:41
- 3Soft Touch05:53
- 4Green Path03:37
- 7A Thought of You03:24
- 8The Sky04:12
- 11Inner Peace02:35
Info for Letter to the Universe
Ghana has an ancient tradition of story-telling, so the continuance of this great heritage can take many forms... and not just ones that involve the voice or words. Peter Somuah spins tales which come from his instrument: as a young trumpet-player, he embarked on a fascinating search for his identity between the Highlife music of his native country, Miles Davis – his idol – and the cosmopolitan musical language of Holland, the country which is now his home. He tells that story in "Letter to the Universe".
When Somuah and his band ended their set and departed the stage at the 2022 North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, it was clear to everyone in the hall that they had witnessed something very special, the arrival of an extraordinary new artist. It was his first big festival appearance; up to then he had only played in clubs. So the question on everyone’s mind was: who is this Ghanaian twenty-something who has just totally amazed and dumbfounded an entire audience?
In Accra, Ghana's capital city, Peter Somuah grew up with Highlife music, that swinging combination of big band influences from the colonial era and the sweetness of palm wine. "I took up the trumpet when I was 14," he recalls. "I played Highlife and Afrobeat in a marching band, I listened to the records of musicians like E.T.Mensah and transcribed their solos." But there was another key experience which turned Somuah to a different era of jazz: when the name Miles Davis is mentioned, a warm radiance suddenly flashes across his face. He remembers how one day a buddy brought him a video of Miles. Somuah was mesmerised: "I really wanted to be able to play like that. I had no idea what he was doing or how he was doing it, I just tried to pick out the notes and imitate him. We are connected to the African-Americans via the history of slavery, so I was able to make a spiritual connection with Miles through that commonality." Somuah went on to listen through all the phases of his trumpet god’s career, while also studying the playing of Freddie Hubbard and Roy Hargrove. From then on, his goal became the exploration – through his own music – of the connections between Ghana and modern jazz.
After a stay in China with friends, and several years as a member of a band touring France, Belgium and Spain, Somuah follows his partner to Holland. At the Codarts Arts School in Rotterdam, his vision of a cosmopolitan jazz language starts to take shape. He forms a cosmopolitan sextet and records "Outer Space" with them, a debut on which he defines his own sound: "On Outer Space I wanted to escape from the box of rules that the purists want to keep you in. It was about being myself, it was about the freedom to mix all the styles of music I like." "Outer Space", which received the Edison Jazz Award, has many flavours of Africa, with Highlife and Afrobeat shining through strongly.
With his new album "Letter to the Universe", Peter Somuah has ventured further out into the musical cosmos as a travelling storyteller. His new compositions reflect the stages of his young life: his Ghanaian past, the work of his jazz idols and the lively “Afropean” scene of his new home in the Benelux. In the pulsating and frenzied "Mission On Earth", one can read an unmistakable dedication to Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew" phase, and also an echo of the layered architecture of today's cosmic jazz as played by the likes of Kamasi Washington. That track is also a perfect demonstration of quite how tight and organic the interplay with his Dutch band with keyboardist and producer Anton de Bruin is, and remains throughout the album.
Somuah's work, however, is by no means a male-only affair: right from the prologue, he assigns an important role to slam poet Lisette Ma Neza, who has her roots in Rwanda. In what becomes a thread running through the disc, she formulates the big identity questions of the current generation travelling Africans who address their questions to the universe as they explore their life situated between continents, philosophies and lifestyles. Peter Somuah's music also deals with this Afro-African existence in a way that reaches out for answers. This is trumpet-playing that has nothing to do with showing-off and virtuosity. Rather, he creates a flow in an eloquent narrative, and yet there is also, very clearly, plenty of the joy of playing and danceability here.
There are also colours and hallmarks from Ghanaian music be found on this journey, for example in the easy-going six-eight rhythms from the Ashanti region ("Green Path"), the fusion of boisterous Fra Fra music from the north of Ghana with jazz ("The Sky"), or in Highlife borrowings, notably in the appearance of Ghanaian veteran Gyedu-Bley Ambolley ("Reincarnation"). To follow Peter Somuah on his quest between the continents of Europe and Africa is something totally refreshing and unexpected, particularly for European ears. What the young Ghanaian has done is to bring his own new and previously unheard stories to the cosmopolitan jazz of the 21st century. This is an open-ended journey…which makes it all the more exciting to find out where Somuah’s story is going to take us.
Peter Somuah, trumpet, vocals (Soft Touch, Odo), guitar (Odo)
Jesse Schilderink, tenor saxophone
Anton de Bruin, keyboards & Frender Rhodes
Marijn van de Ven, double bass & electric bass
Jens Meijer, drums
Danny Rombout, conga, bells, shakers & djembe
Thomas Nii Lantey Botchway, dundun, banana bell, talking drum
Lisette Ma Neza, spoken words (The Universe)
Latanya Alberto, vocals (Moonlight)
Gyedu Blay Ambolley, rap vocals (Reincarnation)
Stevo Atambire, vocals (The Sky)
Lydia Stavraki & Inda Duran, vocals (The Universe)
Strings on Mission on Earth, Soft Touch & Moonlight:
Celeste Engel & Luna Hallenga, violin
Daniela Rivera, viola
Jasper den Hond, cello
is a gifted jazz trumpeter who learned to play by listening endlessly to his trumpet heroes Miles Davis and Roy Hargrove. Somuah stands out with his warm and melancholic sound, as well as the rhythmic prowess reflecting his upbringing surrounded by the music styles native to West Africa. He touches his audiences and makes them groove. In 2021 Somuah won the Erasmus Jazz award for young jazz talent, and in 2022 he won the prestigious Edison Jazz Award with his debut album Outer Space. In his compositions, Somuah explores the boundaries between jazz, funk and traditional Ghanaian music, sprinkled with a hint of electronic music. He has performed his music at many stages already, including at the 2022 North Sea Jazz Festival.