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April 2008

Omar Sosa
Afreecanos
OTA Records

The title Afreecanos isn’t just a clever spelling trick. Cuban pianist/composer Omar Sosa takes a broad overview of the African diaspora, splicing native instrumentation from the continent (ngoni, kalimba, calabassa, balafon) with Cuban percussion and seasoning it all with Western standbys and unobtrusive electronics, knitting the seemingly disparate elements into intricately constructed, slow-building panoramas. Latin-jazz is the pulsebeat that powers Sosa’s cultural merger, but often it serves only as a framework from which a larger worldview is ultimately stated.

There’s a sweeping symphonic stroke to his ambitious arrangements, and an inherent, reverent spirituality to his tone. Sosa is respectful of space and shading—instruments and multilingual voices unfurl a concise statement, take a bow and fade as quickly as they arrived. Unorthodox compositions often set out in a disjointed manner, navigating frequent hairpin turns and threatening to come apart, only to snap into place and unify. “Ollú,” with Christophe “Disco” Minck’s blues guitar-sitar and Mola Sylla’s field-holler-like Wolof vocal, slips into a polyrhythmic shout of drums, trumpets and saxophones, then drops down into an airy, introspective tropical breeze of piano and rhythm; it straddles a line between dissonance and engaging melodicism, an exercise in shifting dynamics and textures, before finally returning to its West African root. Feisty Brazilian-informed flutes and watery percussion set the scene in “Light in the Sky,” and extended moments of quietude suggest little movement until depths are subtly revealed that were only suggested before. In “Nene La Kanou,” Senegalese singer Fanta Cissoko’s hushed Mandingo humming peels back into swells of violin, piano, kora, flute and trumpet—a song of African winter, its warmth is nonetheless palpable.

Afreecanos pays homage to the ancestral but never forgets it is born of an increasingly globalized, multicultural planet.

Originally published in April 2008
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