Omar Sosa in Doha interview

Hot Cuban jazz pianist talks Miles, Monk and Lincoln Centre gig

Omar Sosa in Doha interview

This notable jazz musician steps onto the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Doha stage for the second time this month. We have a chat with him to find out more about his unusual yet brilliant style.

Last time you were in Doha, you and your band gave a fantastic and dramatic performance. What can we expect from you this time?
We’ll be at JALC Doha for a three-week engagement this time. The first week will be quartet, and the second and third weeks will be quintet. The quartet is my new Quarteto AfroCubano, featuring Cuban drummer Ernesto Simpson. My concept is to put together musicians who speak the same musical language, and who are able to use their Cuban traditions as a springboard for creative freedom. We will explore contemporary interpretations of some of the classic Cuban musical styles the world has come to enjoy. All of the material is informed by the powerful African traditions of Santería, Abakua, Makuta, Ñongo, and Palo Monte. Our repertoire will include a number of my signature compositions, including ‘Cha Cha Du Nord’, ‘Mis Tres Notas’, and ‘Iyawo’. I will arrange both popular and religious chants with contemporary harmonies and African rhythms. These African rhythms form the basis of much Cuban music. For the second and third weeks, we will add New York-based tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum.

How would you describe your music style in general?
My music fuses a wide range of jazz, world music and electronic elements with my native Afro-Cuban roots. I think this helps me create a fresh and original urban sound, all with a Latin jazz heart.

Your album Eggun has just been nominated for a Grammy! How do you feel?
The Grammy nomination was a very pleasant surprise! I’m proud for all the musicians and people involved in the production. It’s my 7th Grammy nomination, and as always we’re in with some other great artists. So let’s see what happens on January 26! I will be flying home from Doha to Barcelona that day!

What was your inspiration for the album?
Eggun began as a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009 to compose and produce a tribute performance to Miles Davis’ classic recording, ‘Kind Of Blue’, or the occasion of its 50th anniversary. I was inspired by various motifs and wrote a suite of music honouring the spirit of freedom in Davis’ seminal work. The CD features trumpet and two saxophones, and provides a medium for musical elements from Africa to shape and develop the music.

You’ve won all sorts of awards and accolades over the years. What would you say has been your biggest career highlight so far?
One of the big highlights was playing at the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new Zankel Hall in 2003. We were invited by composer John Adams to join this celebration, and we received some great press in the New York Times.

What would you say is the secret to your success?
I think one of the keys to success is determination! If you believe in yourself, and keep moving forward, one little step at a time, then you can build the foundation for a successful career.

Who do you look up to in the jazz world and why?
Thelonious Monk is one of my heroes. He approached music with a philosophy of freedom and this creative practice has always been an inspiration for me.

What pre-performance rituals do you have?
Before each show I have the musicians come together in a circle to channel their creative energies and form a spiritual connection between each other. This helps us to communicate openly once we’re on stage.

What are you most looking forward to doing in Doha while you’re here?
I’m hoping to take another trip to the desert to see the sunrise! We’re also hoping to work on some new music together while we’re in Doha!
Omar Sosa will be playing in Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, The St Regis from January 6-26 (4446 0105).

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