Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Sosa, Omar (Omar Sosa Palacios)
Sosa, Omar [Omar Sosa Palacios], composer, pianist; b. Camaguey, Cuba, 10 April 1965. He was raised in a working class family in Camaguey, Cuba, the largest inland city of the island nation, with a current population of about 300,000. The city lies at the center of a large prairie, junction point of railroads and highways, commercial center for trade in cattle and sugar produced in the province, and home of many beautiful churches, cathedrals and mansions. His father is Sindulfo Jacinto Sosa Adan. He was a teacher of history and philosophy, as well as an administrator of the local school system. His mother is Maria Gricelia Palacios Cadena. Now retired and living in Havana, was a telex operator for the local electric company. His sister is Oramis Sosa Palacios. His son is Lonious Said Sosa (b. 2002).
At the age of eight, Omar began studying percussion, including marimba, at the music conservatory in Camaguey. After passing a rigorous musical exam, Omar moved his studies to the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Musica in Havana. Here, as a teenager, not finding his first choice instrument - the marimba - readily available, he began to focus on the piano, finishing his formal education in 1983 at the Instituto Superior de Arte, also in Havana. Growing up in Camaguey, Omar listened to music at home - Nat King Cole, Orquesta Aragon, Pacho Alonso, Benny More, and much classical music. He was impressed early on by one of his father's records - a set of Cuban descargas - but had no idea that this was Latin jazz. He was touched profoundly by the music's freedom and expressiveness. It was the group Los Amigos, with Frank Emilio Flynn, Tata Guines, Cachao, and Barreto, et al. Another album constantly on the family's record player was called Pianoforte, a recording by Chucho Valdes. Omar was also impressed by a recording of Afro-Cuban songs by the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional - so much so that he briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a dancer.
Later, at the conservatory in Havana, influenced by his classmates, Omar became familiar with the music called jazz. He listened to a radio program hosted by the father of drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. Students would stay up late to hear the show, and compare notes at the school the next day. At the time, this radio show was one of the main sources of information about jazz. Later, as some of his peer's musician parents began to travel, Omar received records and information about many of the great American artists like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarret, Coltrane, Charlie Parker. At the same time, Omar was influenced by progressive Cuban artists like Chucho Valdez, Irakere, and Emiliano Salvador. It was also as he finished his studies in 1983 that he was introduced to the music of Thelonious Monk, whose legacy of expressive freedom has left a strong mark on Omar's crea tive approach. By the late '80's, having studied everything from Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions to European classical music, he began working with two Cuban pop singers - first Vicente Feliu, then Xiomara Laugart - serving as musical director for various of their touring and recording ensembles.
Moving to Quito, Ecuador for several years beginning in 1993, Sosa discovered the folkloric music of Esmeraldas, a pocket of African-rooted culture on the northwest coast of that country known especially for its use of the marimba. He launched his own jazz fusion ensemble, Entrenoz. After a brief stint in Palma Mallorca, Spain, Omar moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in late 1995. In 1998 Omar began his collaboration with noted Bay Area percussionist and educator John Santos. The duo appeared at the San Francisco Jazz Festival that year. With Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, he's been performing in a duo since 1999, performing throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.
Omar Omar (1997); Free Roots (1997); Nfumbe (1998); Spirit Of The Roots (1999); Inside (1999); Bembon (2000); Prietos (2001); Sentir (2002); Ayaguna (2003); A New Life (2003);
As sideperson or producer:
Pancho Quinto: En El Solar La Cueva Del Humo (1996); Carlos "Patato" Valdes: Ritmo y Candela: African Crossroads (1996); Oaktown Irawo: Funky Cubonics (1998); Hermanas Faez: La Trova De Las Faez (2000); Cherif M'baw: Kham Kham (2000); Koral y Esmeralda: Andarele (2000); Maria Marquez: Eleven Love Stories (2001); Nass Marrakech: Bouderbala (2002); John Santos: La Mar (2002); Abdeljalil Kodssi: Mimoun (2002)
"Rites of Rhythm, The Music of Cuba", by Jory Farr (ReganBooks)
Omar Sosa Stands at the Head of this Piano Class January 19, 2003 By Don Heckman Special to The Los Angeles Times
GOLDIE Award, San Francisco Bay Guardian 1997; WAMMIE Award, San Francisco Weekly 2002; Latin GRAMMY Nomination, Best Latin Jazz Album 2002; Afro-Caribbean Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Journalists Association, NYC (for "Sentir")2003); GRAMMY Nomination, Best Latin Jazz Album 2003