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Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita: Transparent Water

Dan Bilawsky By

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Omar Sosa would make an excellent global ambassador. He seems to make friends and erase boundary lines wherever he goes. Back in 2012, the Cuban pianist connected with Senegalese kora guru Seckou Keita through a mutual musical associate—drummer Marque Gilmore. Sosa and Keita struck up a quick friendship at that initial meeting, ultimately leading to the creation of this radiant collaboration. They laid down the basic tracks for the project in 2013 and added some other worldly (and otherworldly) voices to the mix in the ensuing years—Wu Tong on sheng (Chinese mouth organ) and bawu (a Chinese free-reed aerophone), Mieko Miyazaki on koto, E'Joung-Ju on geomungo (a Korean zither), Mosin Khan Kawa on nagadi (hand drum), Dominique Huchet on bird effects, and Gustavo Ovalles on an assortment of percussion instruments. The resultant music is a conflation of sound and culture like no other.

Sosa's sonic signature—a unique fusion of African musical languages, Cuban parlance, jazz allusions, minimalism, new age spirituality, and blues tinged phraseology—is firmly stamped on this music. But this isn't his to own alone. Ten of the thirteen tracks were penned with Keita and all but two of these pieces feature one or more of the aforementioned guests. Each track speaks to the shared responsibilities of creation and every one of them offers an engrossing vista crafted with the utmost sensitivity to balance of the emotional and sonic varieties. Songs like "Recaredo" and "Black Dream" are introspective and absorbing, leaving the listener rapt on high after a single listen; "Mining-Nah" plays out like a pure expression of joy, emitting rays of light through sound; "Thiossane" is haunting and mournful, dancing slowly in doleful fashion; and "Peace Keeping" is an ominous sound painting saturated in midnight blue.

Those keen on analysis will be tempted to try to break this music down to its component parts, disentangle instruments, and assign strict definitions to what's happening here. That's not advised. Part of the magic in Sosa's music has always been his ability to operate behind the curtain, working the seam where music and magic coexist. His brand of sorcery remains one of his greatest gifts, and it continues to hold sway over every person and project he gets involved with. Trying to overthink or intellectualize this music would miss the point entirely. Better to just let the cross-cultural dialogue and musical spirituality of Transparent Water baptize the ears.

Track Listing: Dary; In The Forest; Black Dream; Mining-Nah; Tama-Tama; Another Prayer; Fatiliku; Oni Yalorde; Peace Keeping; Moro Yeye; Recaredo; Zululand; Thiossane.

Personnel: Omar Sosa: piano, Fender Rhodes, sampler, MicroKorg, vocals; Seckou Keita: kora, djembe, talking drum, sabar, vocals; Gustavo Ovalles: bata drums (10), culo'e puya, clave (12), maracas (1), guataca (4), calabaza (9); Mieko Miyazaki: koto (6, 11, 13); Wu Tong: sheng (3, 6, 11), bawu (8, 10); Mosin Khan Kawa: nagadi (5); E’Joung-Ju: geomungo (9); Dominique Huchet: bird EFX.

Title: Transparent Water | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Ota Records

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