On Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7 2023, we have a rare opportunity to experience live in concert two giants of music: Cuban pianist and composer, Omar Sosa, and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita. They will be joined by Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. These concerts, presented by Nuits d’Afrique Productions will take place at Le National in Montréal. Opening act will be Romain Malagnoux (France, Québec).
Omar Sosa has made a name for himself as a leading figure in modern jazz. He has won multiple Grammy awards and has been praised for his ability to combine traditional Latin rhythms with contemporary jazz. Seckou Keita is considered one of the greatest kora players in the world today. The kora is a traditional West African stringed instrument that is central to the griot musical tradition. Gustavo Ovalles is a master percussionist who plays the polyrhythmic sound of the African Diaspora.
Sosa and Keita first met in 2012, when they were both performing at a music festival in England. They hit it off immediately and decided to collaborate on an album together. The resulting album, Transparent Water, was released in 2017 and was met with critical acclaim. It featured Sosa on piano and various percussion instruments, while Keita played the kora and other West African instruments.
In a conversation with Sosa and Keita they expressed their excitement for having the opportunity to present their music in Montréal. It’s the first time they perform together in this multi-cultural city, well recognized for being an important focus of artistic creation in Canada.
Omar Sosa considers the recording of SUBA as a beautiful project, which was born during the time of Covid-19. “During the first lockdown I got a phone call from Seckou, and he suggested we should work on a new album. We had released our first recording, Transparent Water in 2017. I embraced the idea and we agreed to start working on creating the conditions to make this happen. We would work in our own homes and then make sure we could travel and meet up in Europe. From the very beginning we talked about following a philosophy that would involve space, silence and peace. All of a sudden, Covid had brought the world to a standstill, it created this strange atmosphere of peacefulness in the middle of the chaos, and we thought we should reflect this new reality in our project. SUBA -which means sunrise in Mandinka language- is for us a big statement, where another world is possible. SUBA for us is like a hymn to hope, to a new dawn of tolerance and change in a postpandemic world, it’s a reiteration of humanity’s eternal need for peace, hope and unity.”
Having watched in YouTube Omar Sosa, Seckou Keita and Gustavo Ovalles in a recorded concert in New York, and experiencing the magic created on stage by these musicians, I had to ask Omar about what we should expect during the concerts in Montréal, and this was his answer: “For us, a concert is a ceremony, it’s a moment of collective communion. We take every concert we give as if it was our first and last. We give it all, we project all the energy we have inside in our music, we don’t hold anything. And that creates a community with the audience, a spiritual connection.”
I also asked Sosa to expand on something he has said before: “The one thing that Africa can teach the world is the spirituality in every single thing.” This is what he had to say: “When people start getting close to Africa they realize there’s another way of connecting with your inner self. Why? because you give a more important role to your spiritual dimension as a human being. Unfortunately, many people in western society stopped having that connection with what we call The Supreme Force, or what others may call The Cosmic Energy, our ancestors, who perhaps are not even part of our genealogical tree, but they are with us. So, we need to start listening to our ancestors in order to reconnect with our inner voice, to get guidance and balance to continue our journey on this planet.”
Finally, I asked Omar to tell me about his work Gustavo Ovalles. He said: “I’ve been working with Gustavo for more than 20 years, and from the very beginning we had a strong connection. He’s an amazing musician. I met him in Paris, he came one day to rehearse with my band before a concert. I asked him to sit with my drummer and play together for a few minutes and that was it. I asked him to join us that evening and the chemistry during the concert was incredible. It was a beautiful show that day, and it continues to be like that after all these years.”
After talking to Omar Sosa, I had a chance to talk briefly with Seckou Keita, and asked him to talk about the energy, the connection, the magic that happens when him, Omar and Gustavo get in front of an audience during a live concert, and especially after the terrible experience lived during the pandemic, and he said that “it is something incredible and that energy is hard to describe sometimes, to express it with words. There are elements that we do share… Omar and I have recorded, have been travelling the world, performing on many stages for a number of years now, and also with Gustavo. When you play music that is for the soul, that music speaks for itself. And when musicians meet on the stage with open minds, and wanting to share their energies, everything flows easily, that’s usually what happens. And everywhere we go, and every different place where we play it’s a different energy, but always at about the same level or above, never under. It’s about the music we create together, the chemistry we have listening to each other that allows the music to speak by itself, to shine. We are so much looking forward coming back to Montréal and play these two shows. It’s gonna be a high energy event. I have an amazing experience performing in Montréal, the first time in 2006 I came with my quartet. We played at the Jazz Festival and I was so touched about how the public engaged with my music, it was overwhelming. And I have to say that I will be back in Montréal next July, for the 37th edition of the Nuits d’Afrique International Festival. I will be performing at the Gesù on July 16 as a solo artist.”
One of the things that makes Sosa, Keita and Ovalles’s collaboration so special is the way in which they are able to blend different musical traditions together seamlessly. They are incredibly versatile and able to move between different genres and styles without missing a beat. Another thing that makes their collaboration so special is the way in which they showcase each other’s talents. Sosa’s piano playing is nothing short of breathtaking, and he is able to create a wide range of sounds and textures with his instrument. Keita, meanwhile, is a master of the kora and is able to coax a seemingly endless range of sounds and melodies out of his instrument. Ovalle is a master percussionist who comes from the Afro-Venezuelan, Latin and Caribbean tradition. Together, they form a musical symbiosis that is truly awe-inspiring.
SUBA is a fusion of different musical styles, but this time the album is more focused on Latin and African rhythms, another masterful collaboration between two masters. The recording is characterized by its energetic rhythms and high-energy performances.
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita are two musicians who have created a sound that is both innovative and captivating. Their collaboration is a testament to the power of cross-cultural exchange, and it demonstrates the incredible creativity that can emerge when different artists and traditions come together.
YouTube Video – Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita: Allah Léno