To Make Music, Omar Sosa Needs to Be Free

Omar Sosa performs at Dazzle on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5.
Omar Sosa performs at Dazzle on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5. Massimo Mantovani

click to enlarge Omar Sosa performs at Dazzle on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5. - MASSIMO MANTOVANI
Omar Sosa performs at Dazzle on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5.
Massimo Mantovani
Cuban-born pianist Omar Sosa, who’s equally at home with Latin jazz and world music, says when he plays or composes, he first needs to be free.

“It’s really simple, man,” Sosa says. “Don’t think too much and don’t take everything so seriously. As soon as you take everything so serious, a lot of concepts are going to come into your brain. A lot of things are going to stop you from doing what you want to do. I talk to myself when I sit down to compose. I just want to translate what comes through me. Sometimes I don’t know what really happened until I finish. Sometimes it’s wild, because I really understand what happened when I record the music.”

Whether he’s in a more meditative mood, as on last year’s Transparent Water with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, or digging into vivacious explorations of Afro-Cuban music on 2015’s Ile, Sosa’s inner freedom is apparent in most of the thirty albums he’s released over the past two decades, earning him seven Grammy nominations along the way.

Sosa says that over the years one of the things that he’s discovered is that when he’s really free and happy, the spirits come and tell him what to say, and he sees himself as a translator.

“You receive the information, and you translate in the best honest way you can,” Sosa says. “When your brain is in tune with your soul and your soul is in tune with your brain…when that happens, man, it’s beautiful. When you have the opportunity to listen to what comes to you, it’s like a perfect key or a song you really like or flavor you really like or enjoy. This is what happens. This is what I feel. This is what is coming to me.”

For his two-night stand at Dazzle on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5, Sosa will perform with his Quarteto AfroCubano, which includes drummer Raul Pineda, saxophonist Leandro Saint-Hill and Mozambican electric-bassist Childo Tomas. They’ll be performing songs from Ile, which means home or earth, in the Yoruba language of West Africa.

Sosa says that when talking about jazz, the philosophy is freedom. “The freedom needs to be based in listening to each other, because you cannot have freedom if you always talk and people talk on top of you,” Sosa says. “That isn’t freedom. This is discussion or argument. So basically, it’s important to listen to what your partner is going to say and just answer with total freedom, but listen to what they say. And this is important; it’s basically what we try to do when we play. Listen to each other and answer each other and talk to each other based on our philosophy of freedom and love and unity and peace and Pan-African direction and dimension.”

Next month Sosa will release Aguas, which he recorded with violinist and singer Yilian Cañizares. The album captures the perspectives of Sosa, who now lives in Barcelona, and Cañizares, who was born in Cuba but moved to Switzerland in 2000, living outside her homeland while interpreting the roots and traditions of Cuban music. Sosa says the album's title, which translates as "Waters" in English, is a call to pay attention to the climate.

"If we don’t have water, we don’t have nothing, man," Sosa says. "We’re not even going to have life. So, let's go deep and don’t be too superficial with material things, and let's put a focus on things like water."

While Sosa's an advocate for making the earth a better place, he's also for peace, love and unity.

"Let's love each other," he says. "We only have one life. We need to love each other and love our lives and love people’s lives, and I think everything will be much better. Through art and through music, we can do that. ... To be together and respect each other is not so simple. It’s something we need to pay attention to."

Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano, 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5, Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street, $20-$40.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon