Pulling Up Roots

Since 1995, pianist Omar Sosa has guided and supported the Bay Area's Latin jazz scene. Now he's leaving.

For Price, the album was something of a return to the first time he ever heard Sosa play in early 1996, shortly after Sosa had arrived from Ecuador. "I remember he came over to my studio, where I have a very nice piano, and he played for a few minutes, and I was literally stunned and amazed by the divine creativity and inspiration he had coming out of him. It was really the first time I had been catapulted into another zone by someone's music."

The spiritual dimension of Sosa's music isn't an accident. His involvement in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria is deep-rooted and inseparable from his music. "Without the religion, I don't know if I can say what I say now," he says. "Because sometimes, if you want to impress somebody in the crowd, like a competition, like a game with another musician or something, then the spirits don't come in. They don't play these stupid games. They play the real game. It's like, OK, you want to play? Then open your heart, open your mind and let me say what I want to say. And sometimes then you say 'Wow, I don't know what happened,' because it's a spiritual thing, this thing [that] happens when you open you heart. Maybe this thing happened with the solo piano."

Set for release in March, Sosa's next album Bembon (Spanish for "Thick-Lipped," which Sosa says refers to the album's African elements), will complete the "Roots Trilogy" with many of the same musicians who graced the first two parts. The album has its own flavor, however. Recorded partly in Ecuador, it features some older Afro-Ecuadorian musicians whom Sosa jokingly calls "The Buena Vista Social Club" of Ecuador. (To that end Sosa says he is "really happy that these people, like Ruben Gonzalez, and Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo are finally at the level they are supposed to be.") And while Sosa is now departing the Bay Area, he doesn't plan to abandon it entirely. "I want to go two or three times a year now to play in the Bay Area, because I love the people in the Bay Area. They support my music, they support my crazy concept, they support my spiritual side."

Sosa: Merging Monk and Evans with the legacies of Afro-Cuban music.
Sosa: Merging Monk and Evans with the legacies of Afro-Cuban music.

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Spain, he insists, is not that far away anyhow. "For me, the world is just one street. You know in San Francisco, you have Mill Valley, and you have Mission Street? For me, the world is like that! It's just one street."

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