I was lucky when I was at Santa Clara University to get to work with the Cuba Study Abroad Program. Even though I was never clever enough to secure a site visit to the program (which taught Cuban music, percussion, dance, and culture), I did learn a lot about the Cubans over the years, and developed a greater interest in the country and the musical culture.
The professor who championed and led the Cuba program also coordinates the free-to-the-community Music at Noon series at the University, and he regularly brings Cuban artist Omar Sosa (now S.F.-based) for lunchtime concerts. Sosa is classically trained in piano and also studied at Cuba’s Escuela Nacional de Musica and Instituto Superior de Arte in percussion. Both beautifully permeate his music.
I only saw him once, but I was totally blown away by his absolute joy in the music and the beautiful sounds that flowed from the small stage. The time I saw Omar Sosa, he performed on the piano with the only accompaniment being drummer Gustavo Ovalles, from Venezuela. The two of them made eye contact for most of the show, almost daring each other back and forth with musical challenges, laughing, appreciating the sounds coming from the other. Sosa made the piano into a beat-driven, funky, gorgeous, moving instrument unlike anyone else I have ever seen. Look at the picture above. That’s what it was like.
He has released a dozen albums, and all are different, ranging from jazz, to Afro-Cuban funk, to North-African inspired melodies, to remixes and piano-based instrumentals. So I profess to be nothing close to an expert here. But I have selected a few tracks that I could find which reminded me of the hour I spent listening to him and the images that the music drew in my head. He also released an album of intricate remixes in 2005 of his Mulatos album (Mulatos Remix) which was nominated for a Grammy and is really good.
Africa Madre Viva and Toridanzon – Omar Sosa & Gustavo Ovalles, Live at Ayaguna 6/25/02. Here is where you can hear the playful exploration of these songs that I got to see at their concert. Savage percussion, and the piano just leaps to life.
El Tresero (Plush Vocal Mix) – Omar Sosa, from the Mulatos Remix album (Mmmm hmmmm, listen to that bass line)
BONUS: Redemption Song – Omar Sosa & Richard Bona, reinvented with African influences and Cuban percussion.
Give him a listen, and especially go see him live if you get a chance. He is in Australia right now, then heads to Europe, and then back to the States, with 4 dates at the amazing Yoshi’s in Oakland in April. It’s always a treat to see someone this in love with music.