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Somi Kakoma’s short film ruminates on isolated artmaking

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Somi Kakoma’s short film ruminates on isolated artmaking
Somi Kakoma’s short film “in the absence of things.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF KRANNERT CENTER

On Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., ArtsEmerson will present the virtual livestream of “in the absence of things,” a short film written and created by vocalist-composer Somi Kakoma. The film, produced and shown in partnership with Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Baryshnikov Arts Center, National Black Theatre and Salon Africana, will be free and open to the public.

The pandemic has at once illustrated how essential the arts are and also created an artistic void due to the lack of in-person performance opportunities. While the public relies on film, music and other art forms for entertainment during shutdowns, artists have lost income and creative outlets. The film ruminates on these conflicting emotions.

On the web
To register for the film and conversation, see

“What inspired it, really, is the fact that as performers, we can’t perform, and we’re having to reflect on who we are, what we do and how we identify ourselves when that thing is no longer tangible,” says Kakoma. “It’s a meditation on that disorientation.”

Despite the immense creative challenges, there have been some silver linings to the nationwide shutdowns.

Kakoma spent most of the year quarantining in her hometown in Illinois with her mother. As a result, her mother co-narrates the film with her. “I’ve been grateful in that way, having that sustained time with my mom,” says Kakoma. “She’s this person, body, spirit who I can always lean on.”

Creatively, the pandemic has also given Kakoma time to release a live album, something she would not have been able to prioritize otherwise, and to create this film, her first venture into the medium outside of music videos.

The album, “Holy Room: Live at the Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band” gives the feeling of the live concerts that aren’t accessible right now. Kakoma was inspired to produce it when she realized how the live recordings and audience feedback brought back the emotions of live performance. Her music style blends the soothing melodies of jazz music, the powerful vocals of soul, elements from African music and what she refers to as transatlantic storytelling. The album is available on most music streaming services, and songs from the album are featured in “in the absence of things” in a deconstructed fashion.

After the Dec. 1 film screening, a conversation will take place between Kakoma, Mariona Lloreta, who directs the film, and Jonathan McCrory, artistic director of New York City’s National Black Theatre (NBT). Both the screening and the conversation are free but require registration on the ArtsEmerson website.

Kakoma hopes the event will have a positive impact on viewers.

“I would like for people to come away feeling hopeful,” she says. “Everybody is processing right now and mourning in some way. But I’m encouraged by the many, many, many stories of hope and silver linings.”

arts, film, music, performance