Composer-pianist-bandleader Omar Sosa was born in 1965 in Camagüey, Cuba’s largest inland city. At age eight, Omar studied percussion and marimba at the music conservatory in Camagüey; in Havana, as a teenager, he took up piano at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Música, and completed his formal education at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. Among his influences, Omar cites traditional Afro-Cuban music, European classical composers (including Chopin, Bartok, and Satie), Monk, Coltrane, Parker, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Chucho Valdés, and the pioneering Cuban jazz group Irakere. Moving in 1993 to Ecuador, Omar immersed himself in the folkloric traditions of Esmeraldas, the northwest coast region whose African heritage includes the distinctive marimba tradition. He relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995 and soon invigorated the Latin jazz scene with his adventurous writing and percussive style.
Annually performing upwards of 100 concerts on six continents, Omar has appeared in venues as diverse as the Blue Note (New York, Milan, and Tokyo), Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Getty Center, London’s Barbican and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, and Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt; festivals including Monterey Jazz, JVC Jazz, Montreal Jazz, Marciac Jazz, North Sea Jazz, Helsinki, Grenoble Jazz, Montreux Jazz, Naples Jazz, Ravenna Jazz, Roma Jazz, Spoletto, WOMAD, and Cape Town International Jazz; and universities on several continents, including a visiting artist fellowship at Princeton University in March 2008, and a visiting artist residency at Dartmouth College in April 2008. Omar will return to Dartmouth College for a second artist residency in February 2011.
Mr. Sosa received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Associates in Washington, DC in 2003 for his contribution to developing Latin jazz in the United States. He has received two nominations from the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, in 2004 and 2006, both in the ‘Americas’ category. In 2003 Omar Sosa received the Afro-Caribbean Jazz Album of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalists Association in NYC for his recording Sentir; and a nomination from the Jazz Journalists Association for Latin Jazz Album of the Year in 2005 for his recording Mulatos.
Omar Sosa received an orchestral commission from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Oakland Easy Bay Symphony, supported by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the MAP Fund (Multi-Arts Production Fund). During 2001-2002, Mr. Sosa composed a 45-minute work in three movements for symphony orchestra entitled, From Our Mother, which received its world premiere in January 2003 by the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the direction of Michael Morgan. In 2009, Mr. Sosa received an orchestral commission from the city of Girona, Spain, and the Festival de Músicas Religiosas y del Mundo de Girona. The 20-minute work for symphony orchestra, entitled Oda Africana, received its world premiere in July 2009 by the Jove Orquesta Athenea, conducted by Lluis Caballeria. Also in 2009, Mr. Sosa received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to present a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue recording, featuring Afro-Cuban interpretations of the seminal Davis work on its 50th anniversary. The project was performed at L’Auditori in Barcelona in November 2009.
In 2008, Omar Sosa received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts with Yerba Buena Gardens (San Francisco) and the San Francisco International Arts Festival to present a new Omar Sosa Quintet featuring American roots vocalist Tim Eriksen. This collaboration resulted in the 2009 CD release on Half Note Records, Across The Divide, recorded live at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC. The project received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary World Music Album, and a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Instrumental Album, both in 2009.
For May 2011, Mr. Sosa has received further funding from the National Endowment for the Arts with the Jazz School in Berkeley, California and the San Francisco International Arts Festival, to present workshops with noted Latin jazz percussionist, educator and historian, John Santos, and a Festival performance in San Francisco with his primary touring ensemble, Afreecanos Quartet.
Mr. Sosa’s recording career began in 1997 with the release of his first solo piano recording, Omar Omar on the Oakland, California-based record label, Otá Records, and has continued with the release of 22 CDs as a leader, resulting in five GRAMMY nominations. These include a 2002 GRAMMY nomination and Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album for the CD Sentir; a 2005 GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album for the CD Mulatos, featuring Cuban saxophone and clarinet master, Paquito D’Rivera; and the two nominations for Across The Divide in 2009.
Omar works with an array of African, Arabic, European, Indian, Latin, and North American musicians. Among his many associations are drummers and percussionists Steve Argüelles, Julio Barretto, Mino Cinelu, Miguel “Angá” Diaz, Marque Gilmore, Trilok Gurtu, Marcos Ilukán, Ramiro Musotto, Gustavo Ovalles, Pancho Quinto, Adam Rudolph, John Santos, Carlos “Patato” Valdés, and Orestes Vilató; singers Tim Eriksen, Lázaro Galarraga, Marta Galarraga, El Houssaine Kili, Xiomara Laugart, María Márquez, Will Power, Mola Sylla, the Tenores San Gavino de Oniferi – Sardinia, and Dhafer Youssef; trumpeter Paolo Fresu; and woodwind masters Paquito D’Rivera, Luis Depestre, Leandro Saint-Hill, and Mark Weinstein.
Another recent work is Tales From The Earth (Otá Records, 2009), led by flute player Mark Weinstein. The recording presents a cosmopolitan outlook rooted in the rhythmic intensity and improvisatory, call-and-response spirit of Africa writ large. It features artists of Cuban, Haitian, West African, European, African American, and Jewish American heritage, with a shared commitment to the communal, celebratory character that embodies the expressive riches of Mother Africa and features Omar on marimba and vibraphone, which he studied in Cuba’s conservatories before switching to piano.
A major new project bears the fruit of Omar’s first big band collaboration, working with composer Jaques Morelenbaum and Hamburg’s North German Radio (NDR) Bigband. Recorded in 2007 and 2008 at the NDR studios in Hamburg, it features Jaques Morelenbaum arrangements of material from the Omar Sosa CDs Spirit Of The Roots (1999), Bembón (2000), and Afreecanos (2008). Jaques Morelenbaum has arranged for Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Cesária Evora, among many others. Omar Sosa-NDR Bigband performances were held at the Banlieues Bleues festival in Paris and the NDR studios in March 2010; and will be presented again by the Barcelona Jazz Festival in November 2010 at that city’s famous Palau Música Catalana, with Jaques Morelenbaum conducting.
New performing pursuits include a trio with noted Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu and master Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu. Notable video productions include Light In The Sky, filmed in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and directed by Aitor Echeverria (from the 2008 CD release Afreecanos), and the recent DVD release of Omar Sosa’s 2007 Java Jazz Festival performance in Jakarta, Indonesia.
For film and television, Omar Sosa collaborated in 2008 on the soundtrack for the PBS documentary, The Judge and the General; and completed the soundtrack for the 2010 film The Last Flight of the Flamingo, produced by Fado Filmes in Lisbon, Portugal, and based on Mia Couto’s famous novel about Mozambique. Mr. Sosa also contributed a musical excerpt to the 2006 Andy Garcia film, The Lost City.
In 2011, Omar released his fifth solo piano recording, Calma, which received a Latin GRAMMY nomination. Featuring Omar’s unique and original approach to the genre, the CD comprises 13 solo piano improvisations, fusing stylistic elements of jazz, classical new music, ambient, and electronica.
In January 2012, Omar collaborated with celebrated Italian trumpet and flugelhorn player, Paolo Fresu, on the release of Alma. The CD features guest cello contributions on four tracks by the masterful Brazilian conductor, arranger, producer, and cellist, Jaques Morelenbaum. Produced by Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa for Mr. Fresu’s label imprint, Tuk Music, the compositions are written by Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu, except for Under African Skies, a gentle version of the popular track from the Paul Simon CD, Graceland.
Omar Sosa’s next studio album, “Eggun: The Afri-Lectric Experience”, is set for release worldwide in February 2013. Eggun, in the West African spiritual practice of Ifa and its various expressions throughout the African Diaspora, are the spirits of those who have gone before us, both in our personal families and those who serve as our spiritual guides.
The Omar Sosa Afri-Lectric Experience began as a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009. The assignment: to compose and produce a tribute performance to Miles Davis’ classic Kind Of Blue recording on its 50th anniversary. Inspired by various musical elements and motifs from Kind Of Blue, Omar wrote a suite of music honoring the spirit of freedom in Davis’ seminal work. Featuring trumpet and two saxophones, Eggun provides a medium for musical elements from Africa to shape and develop the music, and the resulting jazz textures are further enriched by the subtle and expressive use of electronic elements. At the heart of the recording is the spirit of Mother Africa.
Following the success of the Kind Of Blue commission, Omar included the new arrangements into the repertoire of his regular touring ensemble, resulting in creating The Afri-Lectric Experience. The featured horn players are Joo Kraus on trumpet (from Germany), Leandro Saint-Hill on saxophones and flute (from Cuba), and Peter Apfelbaum on saxophones and percussion (from the U.S.A.). Omar’s longtime rhythm section of Marque Gilmore on drums (from the U.S.A.) and Childo Tomas on electric bass (from Mozambique) create the foundation.
Special guests on the project include Lionel Loueke on guitars (from Benin), Marvin Sewell on guitars (from the U.S.A.), Pedro Martinez on Afro-Cuban percussion (from Cuba), John Santos on percussion (from the U.S.A.) and Gustavo Ovalles on Afro-Venezuelan percussion (from Venezuela). The CD was recorded primarily in Brooklyn, NY.
In January 2014, Omar released his 5th solo piano recording, Senses. It was created at EMPAC, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Omar was invited to an artist residency at EMPAC in 2012 by Zimbabwean dancer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire to compose music for Nora’s dance-theater piece, Miriam. The sound score for Miriam received a BESSIE Nomination for a New York Dance and Performance Award for Outstanding Musical Composition / Sound Design.
In March 2015, Omar released a CD with his Quarteto AfroCubano, entitled Ilé. This recording marked a homecoming for Omar to his formative years in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Havana. Ilé means home, or earth, in the Lucumí tradition to his of Cuba, derived from the Yoruba language of West Africa, and it is to the Latin Jazz roots of his native Cuba that Omar returns for inspiration on this new CD.
Joining him on the project are three musicians with whom Omar shares a close connection: fellow Camagüeyanos, Ernesto Simpson on drums, and Leandro Saint-Hill on alto saxophone, flute, and clarinet, and Mozambican electric bassist Childo Tomas – collectively known as Quarteto AfroCubano. These musicians speak the same musical language, using their Cuban and African traditions as a springboard for creative freedom.
Special guests on the recording include Cuban percussionist Pedro Martinez, American guitarist Marvin Sewell, Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and maestro Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry, patriarch of the Terry family, on chekere. Featured on vocals is spoken word artist Kokayi. And, reflecting the influence of his extended residency in Barcelona, Omar showcases Flamenco vocalist José “El Salao” Martín on several tracks, including a version of Cuban trova composer Sindo Garay’s La Tarde.
Upcoming recording projects for Omar Sosa include a unique collaboration with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, entitled Transparent Water, which was released in February 2017; a second CD production with Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu, following their 2012 release, Alma, featuring Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, entitled Eros, and set for release in May 2016; and a follow-up CD with the NDR Bigband, featuring arrangements again by Jaques Morelenbaum, entitled Es: sensual, was released in Germany in early 2017.
New touring projects for Omar Sosa include JOG Trio, featuring award-winning German trumpet player Joo Kraus, and folkloric Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. Their CD, entitled JOG, was released in GAS, Poland, Benelux and Scandinavia in October 2015 by Hamburg-based SKIP Records. A co-leader project with tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart from Guadeloupe, entitled Creole Spirits, was launched in April 2016 with a creation residency in Guadeloupe. This gathering resulted in an EPK video produced by noted French filmmaker Frank Cassenti.
Omar’s second CD with the NDR Bigband, “Es: sensual”, was released in the U.S. and Japan, et al, in January 2018, with arrangements again by noted Brazilian master, Jaques Morelenbaum, and featuring several Omar’s signature compositions, “Cha Cha du Nord”, and “My Three Notes”.
In October 2018, Omar and violinist-vocalist Yilian Cañizares released Aguas, a very beautiful and personal album. Featuring their compatriot, percussionist Inor Sotolongo, Aguas reflects the perspectives of two generations of Cuban artists living outside their homeland, interpreting their roots and traditions in subtle and unique ways. Songs range from the poignant to the exuberant and are expressive of the exceptional musical chemistry, poetic sensibilities, and originality of the artists.
The material on Aguas is an inventive and engaging mix of the artists’ Afro-Cuban roots, Western classical music, and jazz. The album is dedicated to Water, and especially to Oshun, the Goddess of Love and Mistress of Rivers in the Lucumí tradition of Yoruba ancestry known in Cuba as Santería – a spiritual practice important to both artists. As water is synonymous with life, and energy, and strength, and space, the music of the album is inspired by the important influences of water – its hidden powers, its infinite transmutations, and its relentless creation. There is a sense, for Omar and Yilian, of how water represents both separation from, and nostalgia for, the land of their birth.
Omar and Yilian will be doing a CD release tour in the Fall of 2018, in Trio with folkloric Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. Highlights include a London Jazz Festival show at the Barbican, an NDR 60th Anniversary concert at Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, and two nights at Bal Blomet in Paris.