Omar Sosa: Bringing The World To The World
AAJ: So Free Roots was your first record, not the solo record, Omar Omar (Otá, 1997)?
OS: No, the first one was the solo record. But to be honest, this record [Omar Omar] was a party. My managerwe have a record label togetherhe used to have two microphones in his living room faced to the piano, and we started to drink some wine with some friends. And I started playing for almost two and a half hours, and he recorded everything [laughs]. And I remember a couple of weeks laterwe weren't working together, we were only friendshe called my ex-wife, because at that time I didn't speak any English. The only thing I could say was "jazz," "thank you" and a couple of bad words, which is the first thing you learn particularly when you live in Oakland, West Oaklandnothing too beautiful in the sense of language. But I remember he told me, "Omar, you want to make a record?." I said, "Well of course I want to make a record, but I don't see this is going to be so simple... you want to make a record?" He passed me a contract, a big contract, 150 pagess, to a guy that doesn't speak English, doesn't read English! I said, "Man, I'm gonna say 'yes,' but it's my word with your word. You betray my word, I kill you!" [Laughs]. And now we have worked for almost fourteen or fifteen years together, and we have twenty-two records together, on Otá Records. I'm proud to have this opportunity, I'm proud of myself to say "yes" at the moment he called me [laughs]. We became a family; he's my manager, his family, my family.
AAJ: Did you find the Bay Area very different to what you had known before?
OS: Of course. America's America, man. They have a lot of problems, they have a lot of scenes, things that can happen only in America! Here in Spain, I played a couple of gigs but it was hard to do this kind of conceptual work, this kind of crazy music, for a lot of people. And when I arrived in San Francisco I see this window kind of open. I played all kind of music. I played flamenco, I played Brazilian, I played whatever music you can imagine. Reggae, Mexicano, salsa, Cuban. And actually, when I started to play jazz, I said "You know, I don't play jazz. I enjoy playing music, but I don't play jazz as a style of music." This is something that I keep until today: I call myself a musician who loves to play music, but I don't play jazz in terms of straight-ahead, or bebop.
As I said before, jazz for me is a kind of philosophy. I take jazz as a philosophy of life, the freedom and the way to create, the way to learn and share and be open to reproduce what you feel inside. I love jazz in that connection. I discovered this in San Francisco. I was starting with all these musicians like John Santos, or Peter Apfelbaum or Jack Jones, all these musicians, Babatunde Lea, Richard Howell. I started to discover this wonderful world of creating music, and expressing what you feel in the moment. In a way, this is what I do until today.
AAJ: Were you listening to jazz in Cuba?
OS: We were listening to a little bit of jazz, but it was undercover. The people in the school would tell you, "They'll grab you. If you listen to some jazz you're in trouble." Because, at that time, jazz was a music from America. It was a kind of secret to listen to jazz. It's beautiful, because when you're not allowed to do something, you want to do it every day [laughs]. And pretty much this is what we didlisten to jazz almost every day, with a little radio. We took some FM radio from Miami every night around ten or eleven o'clock and we listened kind of quiet to this kind of music. It was a beautiful moment. I have beautiful memories of this.
Then, they put jazz [on Cuban radio] every night or a couple of days a weekthis was the father of Horacio Hernandez, the drummer. His father used to have a really good radio program and he only played jazz. We always waited for this program. Whether it was every day or two times a week I don't remember, but we learned a lot. In my last two years of school the music was more free, and we started to get some radio in the school and we played some music, some Oscar Peterson, we played some different kinds of music, Faria Olestar, Weather Report, some Monk, Miles, early Miles, and this was, in a way, the introduction for a lot of people of my generation.
OS: It was Cuban radio. It was called Radio Progresso.
AAJ: From Horacio's father?
OS: Yes. It was a beautiful program. He used to say who was playing, the style, the concept, the biography of the musicians, and we discovered musicians on his radio show like Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Abdullah Ibrahim, Ahmad Jamal, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, of course John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Miles. It was beautiful, it was beautiful. I talked to Horacio a few months ago, because we have a project together with the NDR Big Band, and I talked to him about his father's radio program and we talked quite a bit about this period.