‘Jaja,' - Somi Kakoma shared her thoughts about the play Jaja’s African Hair Braiding - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Monday, November 6, 2023

‘Jaja,' - Somi Kakoma shared her thoughts about the play Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

Nana Mensah (Aminata”), Dominique Thorne (Marie”), and Somi Kakoma (Jaja”) ( Photo credit Matthew Murphy).

‘Jajas African Hair Braiding’ : A Hilarious Tale of Love, Dreams, and Community Triumphs on Stage

Jajas African Hair Braiding is so nice, nicethat its run at the Manhattan Theatre Club was extended to November 19th. Written by award-winning Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play) and directed by Whitney White (Our Dear Dead Drug Lord), this critically acclaimed comedy has garnered rave reviews.

Produced by LaChanze and Taraji P. Henson, the play has received high praise from various sources:

WICKEDLY ENTERTAINING! Perhaps not since Hair” itself have flowing locks and what are attached to them made such a becoming impression onstage.” – The Washington Post

HOT & HILARIOUS AND RIOTOUSLY FUNNY! Jaja's is a buffet of delights, full of treasurable moments when the drama feels tightly woven with the comedy.” – The New York Times

WAVES OF GLEE ROLL THROUGH THE AUDIENCE on the regular. People are cackling, downright screaming with delight. Theres something exhilarating about listening to people snap and holler and cheer not because theyre seeing someone famous but because theyre seeing someone they know.” – New York Magazine

BRILLIANT! A powerful tale about joy, dreams, societal and familial expectations, community, politics, loss, and sisterhood.” – Entertainment Weekly


Set in a bustling hair braiding shop in Harlem, owned by the larger-than-life Jaja, the play unfolds as an adventure every day for the lively group of West African immigrant hair braiders, creating masterpieces on the heads of neighborhood women. During one sweltering summer day, love will blossom, dreams will flourish, and secrets will be revealed. The uncertainty of their circumstances simmers below the surface of their lives and, when it boils over, it forces this tight-knit community to confront what it means to be an outsider on the edge of the place they call home.

In the role of Jaja is vocalist, composer, and playwright Somi Kakoma. Raised between Illinois and Zambia, she is the daughter of immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. Known in the jazz world simply as Somi, The New York Times recently described her as a virtuosic performer in full command of her instrument and powers.” In March 2022, Somi released her 5th studio album, Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba, an all-star tribute album honoring the great South African artist and activist in commemoration of what would have been the late singers 90th birthday. The album won an inaugural Jazz Music Award for Best Vocal Performance.

As a companion project to the album, Somi also wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed original musical about Makeba called Dreaming Zenzile,” which toured nationally and Off-Broadway last season. Before the Zenzile album, Somi released an unplanned live album called Holy Roomfeaturing the Frankfurt Radio Big Band at the height of the 2020 global lockdown. 

The album ultimately earned her a 2021 Grammy® nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album, making her the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy® jazz categories. The album also won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album. Her previous studio album, Petite Afrique, which also won an NAACP Image Award, tells the story of the vibrant African immigrant community amidst a rapidly gentrifying Harlem in New York City and was the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi's major label debut, The Lagos Music Salon.

In the lead role of Jaja, Somi Kakoma shared her thoughts about the play Jajas African Hair Braiding. 

AMSTERDAM NEWS: How did you get cast in this play?
SOMI KAKOMA: I was asked to audition for the role of Jaja in July, and after my audition, I was offered the role.

AMN: How important is it to have African voices in American theater?
SK: I think it is extremely important to have African voices in American theater. The absence of African writers telling our own stories in American theater has led to an overtly Western lens heavily focused on poverty porn narratives that only perpetuate limited and/or stereotypical understanding of the African experience. One of the things I love about Jocelyn Bioh's work is her commitment to disarming audiences with comedy as a way of inviting them into the nuances of our lives - be they joyful or not.

Visit www.telecharge.com/ to purchase tickets.

Joining MTCs season of plays is easy! 

Just call the MTC Clubline at 212-399-3050 or go to www.manhattantheatreclub.com. For group sales, contact Marcia Pendelton at 917-334-9492 or mpendelton@mtc-nyc.org.

For more information on Somi Kakoma, visit www.somimusic.com or follow @somimusic on social media.

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