Omar Sosa performs Wednesday and Thursday night at the Dakota Jazz Club
We were headed to a salsa club one night and the driver, an African, joined the conversation about music.
“Oh, you like salsa?” my surprised colleague asked.
“Salsa is a derivative of our music!” the driver replied.
Indeed it is, as are many of the world’s richest genres. Cuban rumba, Brazilian samba, the blues, jazz, and hip-hop all owe their origins to Africa.
However classically trained, many musicians continue to look to the motherland. That’s what draws listeners to pianist Omar Sosa, who is booked for shows Wednesday and Thursday at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.
Sosa, 46, has long explored the common musical ground between African musicians and their international counterparts. Though that comes naturally to many musicians in his native Cuba, where generations of artists have fused European, African and other influences, Sosa’s exploration has been deeper than most.
Influenced by Cuban master Ruben Gonzalez – the pianist featured on the Buena Vista Social Club recordings – and by North American jazz legends, Sosa’s music is hard to classify. But his trips to Africa and throughout Latin America in the 1980s have led him to embrace the musical spirit present throughout the African diaspora.
After working with Cuban bands and the remarkable percussionist John Santos in the San Francisco bay area, Sosa has produced a string of stirring recordings on Ota Records. A practitioner of Santeria and a Catholic, he allows the spirits of his Afro-Cuban ancestors and the earth itself to take him on a spiritual journey.
That musical path can take him to Cuba, Africa, India or South America in a search for reflection, tranquility and peace. That’s the mindset that inspired Sosa on Mulatos, a 2004 release that featured touches of North African oud, Indian tabla drums and electronic elements.
On the 2008 recording Afreecanos, Sosa offers an ancestral and modern take on Africa’s inspiring musical heritage, using jazz to explore the connections between musicians from Africa, Cuba, Brazil and France.
Sosa can also be cerebral, as he is on his latest release, Calma. The solo recording offers listeners the pianist’s quiet and introspective meditations.
In concert, he is a virtuoso and lively performer who expresses a variety of moods, as he did on his stellar 2006 recording Live a FIP, which featured the late Cuban percussionist Miguel “Anga” Diaz. Unlike other bandleaders whose playing can overwhelm, Sosa takes a collaborative approach with his musicians, delivering lush and orchestral African suites that draw heavily on improvisation.
Their conversational theme is simple: We are all children of the same musical mother.
Sosa will be joined on stage by Marque Gilmore on drums, Childo Tomas on electric bass and Peter Apfelbaum on saxophone.