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, Mr. 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. Mr. Sosa invariably inspires audiences to their feet and to join him in chorus vocals, heightening the sense of spontaneity and connection.
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.
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.
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Clay Corley Sr.
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!