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Omar Sosa: Bringing The World To The World

By Published: May 10, 2011
AAJ: I notice that the bass is a very important part of many of your records. In your ensembles it sometimes really stands out, and you have a great bassist now (Childo Tomas).

OS: Oh yeah, for me this is the backbone of the music. African music without a bass, without a bass and a glue, what is it? I don't know, but it's not African music. And the foundation of every single note I play is Africa, so I always try to keep the bass, even if the rhythm's not completely "gluey" a hundred per cent. But always the bass, it's there. For example, in the piano solo the bass is there. It comes out in the moment like [in low voice] "Uuh, I'm here." When you listen to another solo record, sometimes the bass part of the pianist has some predominant really strong bass like [sings strong succession of Latin-style triplets] "donk ki dong donk ki dong donk ki dong donk di donk ki dong donk di dong dong dong"—something like this—and they put a chord in the top and get this complexity. When I play, I try to let the music come to me, and I don't force anything to go in any direction. This is why the mood of the record is like this. You can like it or not, but it's what it is.

AAJ: When you're using the electronic effects and samples you have set up, you've got these boxes on top of the piano?

OS: Yeah, yeah. A couple of Bosses, a couple of sample machines—I put in triggers to use in the moment what I feel. All I have there most of the time is ethnic music, music that comes from Africa, music that comes from Tuva, close to Mongolia, music that comes from South America, music that comes from the Afro-Cuban tradition, or from the Middle East, because I love to enjoy, man. This is what I do.

AAJ: So the samples are of various ethnic music of say twenty or thirty seconds long?

OS: Sometimes the music is, you say twenty or thirty seconds, sometimes it's fifteen seconds, sometimes it's forty seconds, it depends. One of the songs ("Aguas" from Calma) is with water, played by pygmies. It is interesting because, if the people listen to this, they think it's people playing in the water, but it's water played by real pygmies.

AAJ: They're playing the water, like hitting the water?

OS: They hit the water with the gourd, on the open top. It's kind of crazy because sometimes they hit with the gourd, and put it in the water, but sometimes they just hit the water with their hands in a position like this [hits with hand three times]. When you want to do a pause, you create some acoustic sound with your hands, and when you hit the water you have like "pow pow pow pow." It's a way to play. I don't want to play music played by pygmies. I just enjoy this, and let the people feel whatever they want to feel [laughs]. Now you know what it is.

Another sound in another song is a kalimba. It's a Mozambican kalimba. It was played by my bassist but I sampled it back in the day in the beginning, when we started. I put (it) two octaves low in the register. The machine by itself can do this. This is what the DJs do sometimes.

AAJ: So the kalimba has a one octave range?

OS: Yes, one octave range, but I put it low with the machine, two octaves low so it sounds like a kick or whatever. You don't know what it is. "What is this sound?" You know, it's colors. And this is what happens when we have calm, when we listen (by) ourselves, we have a lot of sounds come inside of us. Sometimes it's high sounds, sometimes it's low sounds. Maybe I'm crazy, but this is what I feel, and I tried to reproduce this in a way with the record because the day when I went to the studio to record, I didn't say "I will do this, and after this, it will be..." No, no, no, I just played. Just played, and after that I listened and said "OK." In the beginning [after the recording], I said "No, I don't want to make a record with this," but after that a few people said to me you should release it and, I said "Why not? The music is there."

But I played for me to listen to myself, and to enjoy this kind of moment. When I went to the studio, I was kind of healing myself, playing this music. Maybe it's crazy but, this is how I live, what I use to live. The day I was recording this, this is how I was living. I don't know if you understand my English [laughs]. I speak Catalan and Spanish.

AAJ: You have a live album recorded at FIP, Live a FIP (Otá, 2006) (FIP is the unparalleled French radio station that champions jazz with its evening "Jazz a FIP" shows, as well as its very carefully selected popular music day-time programming). One of the programmers, in Paris, talked about how careful they are in choosing tracks to go together. It must be a very good station for your music.

OS: I leave tomorrow for Paris, because I play Thursday. But, it's interesting because one of the radio stations that always supports my music is FIP.

AAJ: What are the actual effects you use, on top of the piano?

OS: Calma is the last record to use this setup of electronics. I used Boss guitar pedals—a flanger, a phase shifter, a traditional chorus and a delay—but now I use one single pedal. It's kind of big—a big Boss pedal, like a lot of guitar players use—and everything is programmed. Actually I like it less than the old system, because then it was an analog thing—I needed to press the pedals, I needed to twist the buttons—and I liked this, because the particular sound in the moment was never going to be the same. Now. of course, I have a million sounds, but I can't memorize all of them. I'm happy with it, but it's different. I think it's more subtle, and because everything is digital and stereo, the sound is more refined. Before it was more [makes crunching sound]—you can hear it on Calma.

With the old setup, you spent too much money. It was a complex scene when touring—always extra luggage and problems with cables etc.—in a lot of airports they'd open the luggage and destroy the equipment. They'd break one pedal and I'd need to go buy another, and every pedal was almost 300, 400 bucks. I love to do what I love to do, but I need to think on the economic side sometimes [laughs]. Now, I have the same pedals but in one big box; it's digital, so the sound is cleaner. But it depends what I want. On Calma, I was happy with the sound of the electronics and samples.

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Download jazz mp3 “African Sunrise” by Omar Sosa