Alipio Cruz is probably not known to many by that name. Jazz fans, especially those across Africa and Portugal, know him better as Otis. The popular saxophonist shares his story with Kreol.

Some of the most talented musicians known around the globe today come from industrialised nations where millions of dollars flow through the music industry. Money and exposure doesn’t equate to talent, even if it can be a determinant in the success of any individual musician. The Creole world is full of talented musicians with the ability to conquer the world and bring their musical stylings to crowds around the world.

Otis_0002

Otis in the United Kingdom during the Mozambique Day Celebrations.
Photo: Stuart Anning

Out of Africa

Alipio Cruz, better known simply as Otis, was born in the small town of Inhambane, Mozambique in Africa. He was one of several children from a family of modest standing in the local community. He had a passion for music from a young age, though no one else in his family shared the talent. In his quest to take advantage of his musical ability, his father was an early influence because of his father’s position in the community.

Otis’ father was a maestro in a city band and was a capable jazz saxophonist himself. He encouraged his son to attend a music school. While most musicians from Mozambique in the early 1980s took their skills to South Africa in an effort to turn professional, Otis set his sights on mainland Europe, landing on the shores of the Iberian Peninsula in Portugal.

Alipio Otis

Live on BBC Radio, London.
Photo: Stuart Anning

A Difficult Start to Life

Otis didn’t find easy success awaiting him in Portugal. He spent more than a decade in Portugal struggling to establish an identity for himself as an artist. It was tough to find work as a performer, and though he possessed a great deal of flair and aptitude, he found it difficult to fine tune his craft and land regular jobs.

However, with time and application, he would eventually become the renowned saxophonist he wanted to be. While living in Lisbon, Otis combined his African rhythms and his expanding musical knowledge with modern sounds, cultivating a unique skill. In fact, it was during this first decade of hard work that he came up with his artistic name of Otis. A fan of Otis Redding, Alipio adopted the name Otis.

After years of hard work and dedication, his career eventually began to grow. He played alongside the likes of Tito Paris, Roberto Leal, Paulo de Carvalho, and Miguel e Andre. Each of those performances and collaborations helped him build his status in Portugal.

A Saxophonist from the Start

While some musicians attempt to master multiple genres or even multiple instruments, the saxophone has been the favourite of Otis from the very beginning. It is the only instrument he plays and it is, in his own words, “my passion, my life, my everything.” He is so fond of the saxophone, so deeply involved in the genre of jazz, that he still has the first saxophone he ever owned. Despite his own focus on jazz performances and the saxophone, he listens to many musical genres for relaxation and inspiration. Fusion Jazz, being one of his favourites.