Sunday, April 02, 2006

Interview With Cuban Musician Omar Sosa

Cuban Omar Sosa's vision of contemporary jazz reaches across every imaginable boundary. His music is an exploration of African culture with a global perspective. His foundation for all of his musical compositions is rooted in his spiritual beliefs.

His religion is Santeria, an Afro-Cuban faith that developed on the Caribbean island during the years of slavery, under Spanish colonial rule. Many of the slaves were of Yoruba origin, from what is now southwestern Nigeria, and brought with them belief in a supreme god, Olofi. Humans cannot communicate directly with Olofi. They have to use intermediaries, powerful deities known as orishas, or in Cuba also as Santos (saints). Ancestors are regarded almost as deities and their spirits are called upon at all times for assistance.

Sosa initially studied percussion at the legendary Escuela Nacional de Musica in Havana and then began to focus on the piano. In the late 80s, having studied everything from Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions to European classical music, Omar began working with two Cuban vocalists - Vicente Feliu, and Xiomara Laugart, serving as musical director for their touring and recording ensembles.

Moving to Quito, Ecuador, in 1993, Omar discovered the folkloric music of Esmeraldas, a small African-rooted culture on the northwest coast of that country known for its use of the marimba. He launched his own jazz-fusion ensemble, Entrenoz, and produced "Andarele," a recording by the Afro-Ecuadorian group Koral y Esmarelda.

Sosa moved to San Francisco in 1995 where he became a noted member of the local Latin jazz community. The next year he made his U.S. recording debut on Otá Records, and followed in 1997 with the first in a trilogy of recordings, "Free Roots, Spirit of the Roots and Bembon," that mixed jazz piano with rhythms from across Latin America and Africa.

In 1998 he began collaborating with Bay Area percussionist John Santos. The duo released a live recording, called "Nfumbe," and appeared at the San Francisco Jazz Festival that year. The following year Sosa released his second solo piano recording, "Inside," and he also traveled to Ecuador in 1999 to record his large-ensemble CD "Bembon." In 1999 Omar relocated from California to Barcelona, Spain, where he has dived into West Europe's most vibrant music scene.

With the CD's "Prietos" (2001) and "Sentir" (2002), Sosa expanded his musical fusion further with the use of traditional vocals and instruments from the Gnawa culture of North Africa. The 2004 album "Mulatos," a mix of Cuban music with Indian tabla, jazz drums and studio mixing, features the talents of Dhafer Youssef (oud), Steve Arguelles (drums, electronics), Dieter Ilg (double bass), Hilippe Foch (tabla) and Renaud Pion (clarinets). Ota Records released "Ballads," this year, a collection of his early Latin jazz recordings.

You can find the interview here

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