Born: April 10, 1965 Primary Instrument: Piano
Omar Sosa's music is a unique style of Afro-Cuban jazz, and while it is rooted in the folkloric traditions of the African Diaspora, he always takes an exploratory approach - never one to let orthodoxy stand in the way of his pursuit of freedom. Sosa offers a joyful mix of jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, combining percussive forays inside the piano and a series of electronic effects with his inspired, passionate playing at the keyboard. His tempos are fluid, and his moods change freely. Sosa revels in the irresistible clave grooves of Latin jazz, while adding experimental touches to keep his listeners on their toes.
Omar Sosa was born April 10, 1965, and raised in Camagüey, Cuba.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.
While at the conservatory in Havana, and 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, and 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, and his association with master percussionist John Santos. The next year Sosa made his U.S. recording debut on Ota Records with the solo piano “Omar Omar.” He followed this 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)
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. Sentir 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 “Ayaguna,” (2003) is a live Duo recording with Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles.
In September 2003, Omar released his third solo piano recording, A New Life, dedicated to his son Lonious Said Sosa. Also in September 2003, Omar Sosa received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution for his contributions to the development of Latin music in the United States. The presentation coincided with Omar’s Washington, DC debut, at the famed Voice of America Auditorium.
Mr. Sosa began the year (2003) with the debut of his first work for symphony orchestra, entitled “From Our Mother,” performed at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California by the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the direction of Michael Morgan. The 45-minute work in three movements, which combines folkloric elements from Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador with modern jazz harmonies, was co-commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Oakland East Bay Symphony, with partial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Released in January 2004, Pictures of Soul, is a Duo collaboration with Los Angeles-based percussionist Adam Rudolph. 2005 turned into a big year for Sosa, not only was he nominated for a BBC Award for World Music, his record, “Mulatos,” was also nominated for a Latin Jazz Album of the Year award by the Jazz Journalists Association in New York City. That same year of ’05, he put out “Ballads.”
Not seeming to slow down his incredible output, in 2006 he put out two live dates there was “Live à FIP,” and “Promise.”
Omar Sosa is one of the most versatile jazz artists on the scene today: composer, arranger, producer, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader. He fuses a wide range of world music and electronic elements with his native Afro-Cuban roots to create a fresh and original urban sound - all with a Latin jazz heart. On stage, Omar Sosa is a charismatic figure, inspiring his fellow musicians with his dynamic playing and improvisational approach to the music - an approach full of raw emotional power and humor. Sosa invariably inspires audiences to their feet and to join him in chorus vocals, heightening the sense of spontaneity and connection.
Latest update for 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.