Composer and pianist Omar Sosa was born (April 10, 1965) and raised in Camagüey, Cuba, the largest inland city of the island nation, with a current population of about 300,000. The city lies at the center of a large prairie, junction point of railroads and highways, commercial center for trade in cattle and sugar produced in the province, and home of many beautiful churches, cathedrals and mansions. His father, Sindulfo Sosa, was a teacher of history and philosophy, as well as an administrator of the local school system. His mother, Maricusa Palacios, now retired and living in Havana, was a telex operator for the local electric company.
At the age of eight, Omar began studying percussion, including marimba, at the music conservatory in Camagüey. After passing a rigorous musical exam, Omar moved his studies to the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Musica in Havana. Here, as a teenager, not finding his first choice instrument – the marimba – readily available, he began to focus on the piano, finishing his formal education in 1983 at the Instituto Superior de Arte, also in Havana.
Growing up in Camaguey, Omar listened to music at home – Nat King Cole, Orquesta Aragon, Pacho Alonso, Benny More, and much classical music. He was impressed early on by one of his father’s records – a set of Cuban descargas – but had no idea that this was Latin jazz. He was touched profoundly by the music’s freedom and expressiveness. It was the group Los Amigos, with Frank Emilio Flynn, Tata Guines, Cachao, and Barreto, et al. Another album constantly on the family’s record player was called Pianoforte, a recording by Chucho Valdes. Omar was also impressed by a recording of Afro-Cuban songs by the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional – so much so that he briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a dancer.
Later, at the conservatory in Havana, influenced by his classmates, Omar became familiar with the music called jazz. He listened to a radio program hosted by the father of drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Students would stay up late to hear the show, and compare notes at the school the next day. At the time, this radio show was one of the main sources of information about jazz. Later, as some of his peer’s musician parents began to travel, Omar received records and information about many of the great American artists like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarret, Coltrane, Charlie Parker. At the same time, Omar was influenced by progressive Cuban artists like Chucho Valdez, Irakere, and Emiliano Salvador. It was also as he finished his studies in 1983 that he was introduced to the music of Thelonious Monk, whose legacy of expressive freedom has left a strong mark on Omar’s creative approach. By the late ’80’s, having studied everything from Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions to European classical music, he began working with two Cuban pop singers – first Vicente Feliu, then Xiomara Laugart – serving as musical director for various of their touring and recording ensembles.
Moving to Quito, Ecuador for several years beginning in 1993, Sosa discovered the folkloric music of Esmeraldas, a pocket of African-rooted culture on the northwest coast of that country known especially for its use of the marimba. In addition to launching his own jazz fusion ensemble, Entrenoz, Sosa produced Andarele, a recording by the Afro-Ecuadorian group Koral y Esmeralda.
After a brief stint in Palma Mallorca, Spain, Omar moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in late 1995 where he quickly invigorated the local Latin jazz scene with his explosive playing and adventurous writing. The next year Sosa made his U.S. recording debut on Ota Records with the solo piano Omar Omar, followed in 1997 with the first in a trilogy of groundbreaking large-ensemble, World-Jazz recordings: Free Roots, Spirit Of The Roots (1998) and Bembon (2000).
In 1998 Omar began his collaboration with noted Bay Area percussionist and educator John Santos. The duo released a live recording, Nfumbe, in conjunction with their appearance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival that year. The following year, revealing more of the contemplative side of his musical sensibilities, Omar released his second solo piano recording, Inside, a Top 20-selling CD in France for distributor Night & Day. Capping an extraordinarily productive period, Omar also traveled to Ecuador in 1999 to record his critically acclaimed CD, Bembon.
With Prietos (2001) and Sentir (2002), Omar stretches his genre-expanding fusion still further with the use of traditional vocals and instruments from the Gnawa culture of North Africa. We find tongues in Arabic, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Yoruba, as well as instruments like the guembri, oud, djembe, balafon, and marimba. These recordings are World Music in its truest sense: strong, uncompromising sounds, yet always welcoming and honest. Throughout we hear Omar’s genius as an arranger and his extraordinary inspiration at the piano.
Sentir recently received both a Latin GRAMMY and GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album, as well as the award for Afro-Caribbean Jazz Album of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association in New York. Omar’s current CD, Ayaguna (OTA1010), released in February 2003, is a live Duo recording with Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. These two kindred spirits have been performing together since 1999, delighting audiences throughout Europe, Japan and the United States with their inspired musical chemistry and creativity. For more information, please visit www.melodia.com <(web site); .
In September 2003, Omar released his third solo piano recording, “A New Life”, dedicated to his son Lonious Said Sosa, born in July of 2002. This heartfelt set of 16 improvisations was recorded at Hidden Barn Studio on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, California, and revolves around the themes of childbirth and infancy, reflecting Omar’s experience as a new father. The mood is generally relaxed and contemplative, in contrast to the more percussive style of Omar’s ensemble playing. As usual, we find Omar playing occasionally inside the piano, and we find a version of his beautiful, new ballad, “Iyawo”, released first as the enchanced CD bonus track on “Ayaguna” (OTA1010).
Set for release in January 2004 is “Pictures of Soul” (OTA1012), a Duo collaboration with Los Angeles-based percussionist Adam Rudolph. These two creative musicians have enjoyed each other’s work at a distance for several years. Both share an appreciation of ritual trance music – music that leads us into altered states of consciousness. In April of 2002, when Sosa and his Septet arrived in Los Angeles for a run at the Jazz Bakery, it was possible for these kindred spirits to meet and make music together. The result is Pictures of Soul, a poignant aural journey into the transcendent realms of the creative music process.
Sosa and Rudolph both experience their art as an interactive spiritual voyage. Their approach in the studio called simply for an openness to explore musical landscapes together – without charts, without rehearsal. In Pictures of Soul we find a wide range of expression, from delicate introspection to fiery dance. Sosa plays mostly acoustic piano, both on the keys and inside the instrument. Rudolph is featured on an array of hand drums, including djembe, tarija, dumbek and tabla.
Sosa has released ten recordings on the Otá label since 1997, including 2002’s GRAMMY-nominated Sentir. He performed recently with his Octet at the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new Zankel Hall, about which Alex Ross of The New Yorker remarked that Sosa has “a ferocious flair for rhythm and a keen musical wit”. Composer John Adams, who curated the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new venue, commented that “Sosa is a deeply creative musician with an extraordinary harmonic sense. His piano playing is sui generis: It has obvious roots in Cuban music, but he’s taken his approach to the keyboard into completely new regions”. And Don Heckman of The Los Angeles Times recently wrote “Sosa’s vision of contemporary jazz reaches across every imaginable boundary”.
Mr. Rudolph, a native of Chicago, is known as one of the early innovators in what is now called “World Music”. In 1977 he co-founded The Mandingo Griot Society with Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso, one of the first bands to combine African and American music. In 1988, he recorded the first fusion of American and Gnawa music with Moroccan sintir player and vocalist Hassan Hakmoun and jazz trumpet great Don Cherry. In the same year, Rudolph began his association with the legendary Yusef Lateef, which continues to this day. Hailed by Down Beat as “a percussion wizard”, he currently leads his own ensemble, Go: Organic Orchestra. For more information on Mr. Rudolph, please visit www.metarecords.com <(web site) />
Fans of improvised music as well as aficionados of all types of intimate jazz settings will find Pictures of Soul a rewarding listen.
Label: World Village
Distribution in France: Harmonia Mundi
Release date: February 24, 2017
It’s a new Tama(Journey) spiritual of Omar Sosa. The Cuban pianist releases a new album with Seckou Keita, singer and master of Kora Senegalese.
His new album «Transparent Water» is the latest example of Omar Sosa’s quest of seeking new combinations, a manifestation of improvisatory freedom wherein the musical destination is subordinate to the extemporaneous joy of shared artistic expression. Engaged in a warm and captivating musical conversation, the thirteen pieces reveal the spirit of the five continents by merging all the rhythms of the world with its Cuban mysticism.
Label: jazz village
Distribution in France: Harmonia Mundi
Release date: February 12, 2013
The Afri-Lectric Experience began as an Omar Sosa commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009. The assignment: to compose and produce a tribute performance to Miles Davis classic recording, “Kind Of Blue”, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Inspired by various musical elements and motifs from Kind Of Blue, Omar wrote a suite of music honoring the spirit of freedom in Davis’ seminal work. Featuring trumpet and two saxophones, Eggun provides a medium for musical elements from Africa to shape and develop the music. The resulting jazz textures are further enhanced by the subtle and expressive use of electronic elements. At the heart of the recording is the spirit of Mother Africa.
Label: Otá Records
Distribution in France: World Village / Harmonia Mundi
Release date: March 17, 2011
Calma is Omar Sosa’s fifth solo piano recording. It is a work of singular artistry, featuring Omar’s unique and original approach to the genre. The CD is comprised of 13 solo piano improvisations, fusing stylistic elements of jazz, classical new music, ambient, and electronica. As the title implies, the overall feeling is relaxed and introspective, without any attempt to impress technically. Rather, the intent is to evoke a mood of reflection and contemplation. The recording features a rarely heard combination of acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and various electronic effects and sampled sounds. All of these instruments were recorded live together in the studio, without overdubs – the artist interacting spontaneously, in real-time, with the various sonic elements. Omar’s unorthodox harmonic sensibilities are evident throughout Calma. We hear surprising harmonic turns, with sonorities blending and resolving in unpredictable ways. And Omar’s subtle and integral use of the electronic elements lends a layer of sonic richness and depth to many of the tracks.
Label: OTA Records / World Village
Distribution in France: Harmonia Mundi
Release date: February 25, 2010
Omar Sosa, le grand pianiste et compositeur cubain présente ici son premier travail avec une formation Big Band – et non le moindre, celui de la radio NDR Allemagne, qui a enregistré avec Chet Baker, Paquito d’Rivera, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau et d’autres grands du jazz. Les arrangements sont du violoncelliste et compositeur brésilien Jaques Morelenbaum, ami et collaborateur d’artistes majeurs brésiliens comme Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa …L’album a été enregistré sous leur double direction grâce à Stefan Gerdes, producteur à la radio NDR de Hambourg, qui a fait le lien entre Sosa et Morelenbaum. Le groupe d’Omar Sosa est représenté par ses compatriotes Julio Barreto et Marcos Ilukán aux percussions, et par Childo Toas, qui vient du Mozambique, à la basse électrique. En plus du piano, Omar Sosa joue du marimba.
Invoquant une pléiade de divinités Yoruba, « Ceremony » emprunte le caractère sacré des cérémonies batá, tout en plongeant dans le « son », le « danzón » et le « cha-cha-cha » cubains. Symbolisant l’héritage et l’évolution spirituelle d’Omar Sosa, l’album traduit aussi sa vénération pour Elegba, gardien des esprits, medium tout puissant et maître des destinées.
Il présente de brillantes relectures de titres d’Omar Sosa, extraits de ses albums « Spirit Of The Roots » (1999), « Bembón » (2000) et « Afreecanos » (2008).
Across The Divide
Label: Half Note Records
Release date: May 20, 2009
“Across The Divide” began like a shooting star – a luminous certainty that two folkloric musicians, a Cuban pianist and a New England multi-instrumentalist specializing in native and adopted American musics, could trace the connections between seemingly disparate worlds of thought. The crystallizing element in assembling this narrative was rhythm, heard through a melding and mingling of cultures and manifesting the shared roots between Omar Sosa and Tim Eriksen. Omar is a global musician, attuned to the pulse of nature. His air of authority, of wisdom, is born from immersion in the musics of the world and a desire to propagate his folk heritage. Tim is a preservationist, uncovering songs dug deep in the soil and offering them as evidence of an exchange system distinctly American because of its cultural beginnings elsewhere.
Label: Ota Records - OTA 1019
Distribution in France: Harmonia Mundi
Release date: February 21, 2008
Afreecanos. Rooted in Africa. Omar Sosa’s new studio album brings together musicians from Africa, Cuba, Brazil, and France to celebrate the rich heritage of African music in jazz and Latin music. Mr. Sosa’s approach takes folkloric elements from Africa and the Americas, combines them with his Afro-Cuban roots, and brings them all forward into a contemporary jazz expression. For the first time since his arrangements on Spirit Of The Roots and Prietos, Mr. Sosa uses a horn section, and Afreecanos features a variety of traditional and modern flute sounds. The recording also features kora, ngoni, guitar-sitar, and a variety of folkloric percussion instruments, including batá, timbales, kongoman, m’bira, and talking drum.
Featured on the recording are Cuban drummer Julio Barreto, Mozambican electric bassist Childo Tomas, Senegalese vocalist Mola Sylla, Cuban folkloric master Lázaro Galarraga, Cuban woodwind player Leandro Saint-Hill, French trumpet player Stéphane Belmondo, and French multi-instrumentalist Christophe Disco Minck. Also featured are Cuban timbal master Orestes Vilató, Malian percussionist Baba Sissoko, Malian flute player Ali Wague, and Senegalese kora player Ali Boulo Santo, et al.
Mr. Sosa has taken Afro-Cuban musical forms, like the rumba, and arranged them for African musicians and African instruments… releasing these forms from the traditional Afro-Cuban clave… and opening them to innovative interpretations… combining the fokloric with the contemporary, the ancestral with the urban. Throughout the album we hear folkloric elements infusing a modern jazz idiom, including spirit vocals and percussion from Africa, Cuba, and Brazil. The sound is lush and orchestral.
Afreecanos is produced by Paris-based drummer Steve Argüelles, who also produced Mr. Sosa’s 2004 GRAMMY-nominated recording, Mulatos. Afreecanos was recorded at Fattoria Musica in Osnabrück, Germany, with additional recording in Paris and San Francisco.
The recording is dedicated to the late Cuban percussion masters, Pancho Quinto and Angá Diaz. .
Release date: January 01, 2007
With “Promise”, Omar Sosa continues his exploration of the African roots of traditional musics throughout the Diaspora, using jazz harmonies and the latest technology. His new Afreecanos Quartet features Cuban drummer Julio Barreto, Mozambican electric bassist Childo Tomas, and Senegalese vocalist Mola Sylla. The ensemble fuses the folkloric with the contemporary, the tribal with the urban – all with a Latin jazz heart. Downbeat recently commented that “Sosa stokes the African and Cuban fires: Each burns distinctly from the other while illuminating the place between them. This is where Sosa pitches his musical camp and works his magic” (January 2007).
Recorded in front of a live audience at the NDR radio studios in Hamburg, Germany, “Promise” features the above Quartet, plus noted Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu, and Cuban flute player Leandro Saint-Hill. This live recording anticipates the release in October 2007 of Omar Sosa’s next studio album, entitled “Afreecanos”.
Available from www.melodia.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-339-3389.
Julio Barreto toured and recorded with Gonzalo Rubalcaba from 1991 to 1998 in Trio and Quartet, and is featured on the Rubalcaba recordings “Suite 4 y20”, “Rapsodia”, “Diz”, “Imagine” and “Antiguo”. Mr. Barreto has also toured and recorded with Roy Hargrove, David Sanchez, Chucho Valdes, Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Chico Freeman, José Luis Quintana, and Miguel “Anga” Diaz. He lives in Luzern, Switzerland.
In addition to the electric bass, Childo Tomas sings in his native language Mozambican language of Ronga, and plays m’bira. Mola Sylla sings in his native language of Wolof, and plays m’bira and xalam.
Live à FIP
Label: World Village
Release date: January 01, 2005
Omar Sosa has released a number of live, solo piano recordings and a number of live, piano-percussion duo recordings over the years. With Live à FIP, Omar offers his first live, ensemble CD, featuring a Quintet comprised of bass, drums, percussion and saxophone. Recorded at Radio France in Paris in front of a live, studio audience, Live à FIP offers new interpretations of many of the compositions from Mr. Sosa’s 2006 GRAMMY-nominated CD, Mulatos, as well as a number of new pieces. FIP is an acronym for France Inter Paris, part of the Radio France broadcasting network.
Joining Mr. Sosa for the May 12, 2005 date, and recording together for the first time, are regular Sosa collaborators (the late) Angá Díaz (Cuba) on percussion, Childo Tomas (Mozambique) on electric bass, and Luis Depestre (Cuba) on saxophones. Completing the ensemble is Paris-based drummer, Steve Argüelles (UK), who produced the award-winning Mulatos (OTA1014) and the follow-up Mulatos Remix (OTA1016).
Compositions from Mulatos include “Nuevo Manto” and “Dos Caminos”, as well as the sweetly lilting “Iyawo”, and the haunting “El Consenso”. New material includes “Métisse” and “Paralelo”, both part of Mr. Sosa’s current touring repertoire, and “African Sunrise”, featuring Childo Tomas’ African vocals and m’bira (known as a “thumb piano”). Closing the recording is a rousing version of one of Mr. Sosa’s signature encores, “Muevete En D”, featuring Angá Díaz on cajon (a wooden “box” drum).
Percussionist Angá Díaz is renowned for his contributions with influential Cuban artists Irakere, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Rubén González, and Cachaíto López, as well as acclaimed U.S. trumpeter, Roy Hargrove. On Live à FIP, we are treated to Angá’s artistry on congas, cajon and bongo. Childo Tomas recently made his U.S. performing debut, joining Mr. Sosa for shows at Yoshi’s in Oakland and the new Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club in Miami. He will also join Omar on tour in the U.S. at the beginning of October.
Label: Ota Records - OTA 1014
Distribution in France: Night & Day
Release date: October 25, 2004
How to be true to a music tradition and be part of the world at large? To be a modern artist (and consequently a traveler), without dismissing your roots? Omar Sosa searches out new sounds for a music that is simultaneously his own, and part of an Afro-Cuban culture. Mulatos is a fitting description for the kind of approach Omar is adopting – a mix of Cuban music that dances with rhythmic inspirations of Indian tabla, jazz drums, and studio mixing. Listening to the voices of the Arabic lute, the oud, a fore runner of the Cuban tres, and European clarinet melodies reminding him of Paquito D’Rivera and the repertoire of the great Cuban masters, Omar Sosa’s unique way of imagining how this can fit together and making the leap to realize the recording of it, is what makes him stand out as a very modern musician – an inventive and courageous artist.The album Mulatos features the highly individual talents of Dhafer Youssef (oud), Steve Argüelles (drums, electronics), Dieter Ilg (double bass), Philippe Foch (tabla), and Renaud Pion (clarinets). With the exception of Omar Sosa, the relation to Cuban music for these musicians is somewhat removed, though respectful and engaging. Omar’s extraordinary abilities as a composer, pianist, marimba percussionist (new here to many of his followers) and his authoritative leadership threads this together beautifully to create a major development for a Cuban jazz artist.Joining the project as special guest on clarinet for three compositions, someone whose artistry Omar has admired for many years, is Paquito D’Rivera (tracks 1, 2, 6).
Producer Steve Argüelles remarks, “It’s an album that is tightly constructed, like movie editing in the sense that the clarity of musical ideas are presented to maximum effect, be it a simple melody, a curious rhythm, or an electronic touch here and there. It remains rich, too, in the way that a favorite record is what you keep returning to, an important objective of ours. It tells a story about Omar’s relation to jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms and spirituality, the piano, and a freely expressive mind”.
- March 02: Paris, France - Maison de la radio, Live à FIP
- March 03: Clairefontaine en Yvelines, France - Jazz à toute heure Festival, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 04: Marciac, France – L’Astrada, Festival Jazz in Marciac, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 10: Saubrigues, France - Scene aux Champs, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 15: Amiens, France - Théâtre du Safran, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 16: Paris, France - Café de la Danse, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 17: Massy, France - Paul B, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 23: Grenoble, France - Detours de Babel, Creole Spirits
- March 25: Calais, France - Le Channel, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles
- March 30: Liffre, France -Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- March 31: Muzillac, France -Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 01: Ploermel, France -Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 02: St Martin des Champs, France-with Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles and Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 04: Guidel, France - L'Estran,Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 06: Rennes, France - TNB, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 07: Rennes, France - TNB, Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne
- April 08: Ploudalmzeau, France - Trio Seckou Keita-Gustavo Ovalles with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne