Music

Pianist, composer Omar Sosa embodies Global Cuba Fest

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
February 23, 2024 at 12:37 AM

Global Cuba Fest 2024 features Omar Sosa, above, at the Miami Beach Bandshell on Saturday, March 2, and pianists Ernán López Nussa and Rolando Luna, on Saturday, March 9 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. (Photo courtesy of David Sproule)

Cuban pianist and composer Omar Sosa embodies the spirit and ambition of Global Cuba Fest, an annual event by FUNDarte and the Miami Light Project celebrating the Cuban diaspora’s rhythms, music, and culture. Sosa is the headliner for the Saturday, March 2 show at the Miami Beach Bandshell. (Two other exceptional Cuban pianists, Ernán López Nussa and Rolando Luna, headline the second event of Global Cuba Fest on Saturday, March 9 at the Miami Dade County Auditorium.)

For Sosa, who will appear with his new Quarteto Americanos, his identity as a Cuban of African descent remains a starting point for exploring a pan-African culture without borders.

His career spans 30 years and has been documented in 35 releases thus far, and his work has been recognized with four Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Award nominations. He continues collaborating with an impressive list of North American, African, Arabic, European, Indian, and Latin musicians, treating post-bop jazz and cha-cha-chá, hip hop, rhythms of the Moroccan Gnawa tradition, or ritual music of the Orisha religion as different expressions of shared African roots.

Omar Sosa’s career spans 30 years and his work has been recognized with four Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Award nominations. (Photo courtesy of Shinya Watabe)

By connecting seemingly disparate sources and exploring old traditions with a contemporary approach, he often suggests conversations among long-lost relatives.

The results then are not just surprising but illuminating.

For his appearance at Global Cuba Fest, his first in Miami since 2018, Sosa will lead a quartet featuring multi-reed player Sheldon Brown, bassist Ernesto Mazar Kindelán, and drummer Josh Jones.

“Every project has different music, and every project gives me something,” says the pianist in a conversation in Spanish from his home in Barcelona. “And being on the move keeps me awake, alert — and a lot of times a little bit scared too. If we expect that what happened yesterday will happen today, well, forget it,” he says before breaking into a laugh.

But for Sosa, who will be 59 in April, “the concept remains the same. What has changed sometimes over the years is the form. But the idea of the unity of culture and sharing remains. And when I say ‘sharing,’ I don’t mean it only from the musical point of view but also from a human point of view. You give me something of yours, I give you something of mine, and together, we will create something that perhaps will have two words from you and one from me, and perhaps it will be positive for everyone.”

Quarteto Americanos is, from left, Ernesto Mazar Kindelán, Omar Sosa, Josh Jones, and Sheldon Brown. (Photo courtesy of Otá Records)

Born in Camaguey, after finishing his studies at the National School of Music and the Higher Institute of Art in Havana, he traveled with his first group to Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. In 1993, he moved to Quito, Ecuador, and two years later, to the Bay Area in California. He has since settled in Barcelona, Spain.

While he has consistently said that he does not consider himself a jazz pianist, he calls himself a jazzman.

“Jazz, for me, is a philosophy of life, and that philosophy allows you to feel free to express yourself,” says Sosa. “That openness is why jazz works with all kinds of music. That’s why it’s a global music. I don’t play bebop, and maybe I know one jazz standard, that’s it, nothing more. But for me, jazz is freedom, and in those terms, I consider myself a jazzman.”

He is an expressive, imaginative pianist with a rich vocabulary, capable of remarkably lyrical flights and forceful grooves. But Sosa trained initially as a percussionist and still approaches the piano as “88 well-tuned drums.” The idea serves as the title of the documentary on Sosa’s music and life, directed by Soren Sorensen, a filmmaker in Worcester, Mass., who focuses on documentaries with an emphasis on social and cultural issues. The film had its world premiere at the 2022 USA Film Festival in Dallas and has since appeared at more than 30 film  festivals.

“Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums” will be released on Video On Demand platforms such as Amazon, GooglePlay, and Tubi in the United States on Friday, March 15 and will be out on Blu-ray in April 2024.

Cuban pianist and composer Omar Sosa headlines the Global Cuba Fest, an annual event by FUNDarte and the Miami Light Project celebrating the Cuban diaspora’s rhythms. (Photo courtesy of Jos Knaepen)

As it turns out, Sorensen met Sosa at one of his shows in New York. He “found the work interesting, a bit different from what it was being played at the time, but he didn’t know anything about what I had been doing,” says Sosa. “So he started to search and listen, and we connected on this message of pluriculturality.”

For Sosa, it’s a concept that has shaped his approach to life and, inevitably, as a result, his music.

“Living with other cultures makes me more open-minded. This is what I’ve been expressing in my work all these years, and, at this point in my life, it’s what I’ll die doing,” says Sosa. “It’s what gives me pleasure — and makes me grow as a person.”

WHAT: Global Cuba Fest 2024: Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos and Piano Marathon Cubano featuring.Ernán López-Nussa and Rolando Luna

WHERE: Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; Mid Stage Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W Flagler St., Miami

WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday, March 2; 7 p.m., March 9

COST: $40, $25 for seniors and students

INFORMATION:  305-576-4350 and miamilightproject.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

 

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