Award-winning Jazz composer Omar Sosa began studying music in his native Cuba at the age of eight and later embarked on a musical journey that has taken him around the world. Now living in Spain, he continues to perform in many countries, including recently at the Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival in Haiti, where he gave an exclusive interview about his work and personal views.
Legendary jazz great opens up about his creative process and opinions on problems plaguing the world!
One of Cuba’s great jazz pianists and band leaders, Omar Sosa, thrilled audiences at the thronged Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival held in January when the eclectic musician performed in concert. The 50-year-old is the recipient of numerous awards from around the world for his body of work, which includes live performances and tw o dozen albums and counting – one and sometimes two a year for the past two decades. This is one prodigious and prolific artist whose soul is firmly connected not only to the jazz world but to those of African, Cuban, hip-hop and electronic music.
When he’s composing, Omar doesn’t think in any particular language. Rather, he senses and feels the notes, and, “That’s all I need” he said in an interview during the Port-au-Prince festival. The process itself is decidedly low-tech, and often not even using an instrument, even his beloved piano.
“Sometimes it’s piano, sometimes nothing,” he adds, “I just get a piece of paper and write. Now we have the crazy technology: you can use your phone and no need to transcribe. I tend to write on paper, but on computer you can do everything. Even if you haven’t studied music, you can come up with one of the most beautiful pieces, because even the computer can tell you: “This is not right; this is right.”
Omar draws his inspiration in creating music from a wide variety of sources. He says he’s entirely open-minded and he considers himself to be both a religious and a spiritual man. “They are together in a way” he explained, “Some people are spiritual but they’re having a religion. I love these people … I’m not an orthodox guy; I’m open. I love to study Buddhism … I’m open to how you can relate to the people that are not here physically,”
Another aspect of Omar’s life that translates into music is his desire to share the many traditions of the world with as many people as possible, using music as a conduit to do so. He says, “It’s about you and I and all of us together – unity. We want to share something, based on tradition. This is why we are here. We want to know about tradition … the spirit of our ancestors. We have a mission as artists to present and try to shine a light on this message through some simple channel that we call music.Some people make sculpture, other people make fashion, but there’s always a message based on tradition and roots.”
Omar says that, although he’s not from Haiti, he feels a close link with the Caribbean country, because of its strong and vibrant culture, including the practice of voodoo. Also because Haiti is physically close to where he grew up, less than an hour from his home town of Camagüey, in the centre of Cuba. So in a way, he feels, being in Haiti for the jazz festival is something of a homecoming.
Omar bemoans what he sees as the emergence of selfish traits in many people in developed societies, when we should all be working and sharing together as one species. “We are all brothers and sisters.
We’re all human beings. The best way is to share in community, in singing, to love each other,” he insists, becoming ever more animated as he speaks.
“Sometimes in Western society it’s all about me, me, me, iPhone, iPad, I, I, I. When are we going to start talking about “we”? I think it’s time, because you can see the political disaster in the whole entire planet – no one believes in any one politician” Omar says, his voice rising. He continues, “We haven’t become a community. If we have our feet on the ground, the first thing we need to face is the imbalance of the world today, the difference between social class and all this stuff”.
The jazz supremo divulged that he had r ecently returned from South Africa, where he saw the same social problems he’s now seeing in Haiti. “I’m going to be in Morocco in two months, and for sure there will be the same problems. I live in Spain – supposed to be the first world. You live in London –supposed to be the first world, and maybe you have more where you are, but we’re facing the same problems,” he concludes.
He says that it all boils down to the working classes, who suffer more than anyone, working more and earning less. “In the end,” he says, “we’re all working class, so we face all these problems. You know why? Everyone wants to be at the top of the mountain, and the mountain doesn’t exist in that kind of way. At the top is always another top – it’s never-ending.”
But Omar is certain that art can help, and heal. He feels his music can communicate, “Hey, guys, let’s wake up and let’s be together.” “This,” says Omar, “is the only thing I thing I can do. Try to share our traditions.”