Though Omar Sosa was born in Cuba, at the age of 38 he has been exposed to a multitude of cultures, and now lives in Barcelona with his third wife. Nonetheless, the essential spiritual basis of Afro-Cuban music, with its inspiration from the Orishas, remains with Sosa, and he says a chant and lights a candle on his piano before each concert. Indeed, he says that he’s not aware of what he plays, his performance being a channel of communication from the gods to his audience. Such devout spirituality extends to his understanding of his role in music: that of a medium for communicating the Orishas’ messages to audiences around the world. The intriguing aspect of Mulatos
is that Sosa has embrace the world’s cultures through his representative inclusion of musicians from, besides his Cuban ancestry (and that of guest artist Paquito D’Rivera as well), Germany, Tunisia, France and England. Strangely enough, Sosa retains the spiritual aspect of his music, which he cherishes, while reaching out to include music influences from other cultures. The result is complex, varied and engaging.
Sosa wrote all of the music of Mulatos,
and even though the instrumentation remains the same, he attains numerous shades and voices from his group. For instance, "Ternura" percolates throughout with the rippling energy of drummer/producer Steve Argüelles as each of the instruments briefly joins in until the the middle section introduces the tension of opposing meters. On the other hand, "La Tra" Renaud Pion changes to the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet to deepen the textures of the song with its call-and-response structure, emphasized by Aziz Arradi’s chants, and based on rumba percussion. "L3zero" combines funkiness, expressed by Sosa’s use of marimba and
sampling, with the reassurance of Pion’s clarinet for the contrast of clip-clopping drumbeat with the overlay of Pion’s easy melody. Then, "Iyawo" seeps into the listener’s consciousness as a meditation, Sosa’s single-note upper-register work playing against Dieter Ilg’s bass and Argülles’ minimalistic drumming. Mulatos
is at its most unpredictable and original when it mixes the influences of numerous world cultures, as when Sosa sets up the motive of "Dos Caminos" as if it were European classical, until Dhafer Youssef enters on oud and Phillippe Foch on tabla; then the piece takes on a middle Eastern, and then with Pion’s clarineting, an Eastern European flavor. No matter how propulsive or ruminative the piece, Sosa’s piano playing remains understated and controlled, and his interests appear to be more in the group’s execution of his compositions than in showcasing his instrumental abilities. Mulatos
is a CD that doesn’t fit into any category, which is a good thing. Rather than being "Latin" or "world music" or "jazz," Mulatos
instead is an expression of Omar Sosa’s humanity as he continues to absorb influences while remaining rooted in his spiritual beginnings in Cuba.