Back in 2009, Omar Sosa took part in an eight-stop trio tour of East Africa. Serving multiple purposes, it gave the pianist a chance to work with Senegalese singer Mola Sylla and Mozambican bassist Childo Tomas while connecting with the people, operated as the subject for a French-funded documentary and provided an opportunity for cross-cultural collaborations to blossom in the field. Every time Sosa touched down in a new spot his hosts with Alliance Française helped him connect with local artists. And his sound engineer, Patrick Destandeau, was right there with him, ready to capture the results with his mobile recording rig.
When all was said and done with the tour, and the pianist returned to Barcelona, he passed the recordings off to his co-producer, Steve Argüelles. Then the waiting game began. First there was other work to tend to. But then there was the matter of presentation to consider. The pair wrestled for quite a while with the best way to (ad)dress the music, eventually settling on the idea of subtle enhancements. In pulling together two sessions in 2018the first for Argüelles to add drums and percussion, and Christophe Minck to contribute with electronics and keyboard-bass; the second for Sosa to overdub acoustic pianothe production was finally completed. It was both an end to the work and the beginning for An East African Journey's arrival.
Mirroring the tour's launch, the album starts in Madagascar with "Tsiaro Tsiaro." Sosa's reflective piano sets that stage, but Rajery's valiha (an 18-string tube zither) steals the show with its beautifully brittle flow. The pianist threads other recordings from the Red Island throughout, using that location as a geographic home base of sorts for this project, . Rajery reappears on "Veloma E," a vocal-enhanced episode in folk purity, and "Dadilahy," a dancing delight placed in the penultimate slot. And Monja Mahafay, a musician living in the bush, some 625 miles south of there, makes his mark(s) with scampering sensibilities on the marovany (24-string box zither) during "Eretseretse." Later, he gives off loose and stirring suggestions with the lokanga (a three-string violin) on "Sabo."
As Sosa bounces from place to place, the joys inherent in human connection shine brightly in musical discovery. "Thuon Mok Loga," a gospel work featuring Olith Ratego's nyatiti (lyre) and vocals, was captured in Kenya; the straight-time groove of "Shibinda," showcasing Abel Ntalasha's kalumbu (a string-and-gourd precursor of the better-known Brazilian berimbau), was made in Zambia; and two performances with krar (5-string, bowl-shaped lyre) master Seleshe Damessaethe swinging "Che Che" and capacious and slow-grooving "Tizeta"recall Sosa's time in Ethiopia. Additional collaborative works from stops in Sudan, Burundi and Mauritius find their way into the mix and broaden the landscape, offering even greater variety. Ever the restless explorer, Omar Sosa continues to thrill and surprise with his curiosity and connective capabilities. This was and is his journey, but he's more than happy to take us with him.
Tsiaro Tsara; Thuon Mok Loga; Elrababa; Eretseretse; Che Che; Veloma E; Kwa Nyogokuru Revisted; Tizeta; Sabo; Meinfajria;
Shibinda; Dadilahy; Ravann Dan Jazz.