Interview: Omar Sosa


Transparent Water Trio is the new collaboration between prestigious Cuban jazz pianist and composer Omar Sosa and U.K.-based Senegalese kora master and singer Seckou Keita, featuring folkloric Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. The project is the latest example of Omar’s determination to seek new combinations of instruments and cultures. Transparent Water reaches across three continents, gathering artists engaged in a captivating musical conversation and creating a deeply spiritual experience.


We spoke with Omar Sosa ahead of the Transparent Water Trio’s show at The Cedar on March 14 about the meaning of Transparent Water, collaborating across cultures, and a track-by-track breakdown of the new album. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.


What is the meaning behind the Transparent Water concept?


When Seckou Keita and I got together for the first time to co-create new music, we were delighted to see how easily and naturally the music flowed together, giving us a sense of the natural ease and organic movement of water, and a sense of how important and profound this element (water) is on both personal and societal levels, as well as global dimensions.  We felt like the music we were creating was suggestive of translucence and flowing light—that it had a deeply spiritual quality and was inspired by our close and compassionate listening to each other.  We felt we were engaged in a musical conversation that was liberated from time itself.  We were seeking new combinations with piano and kora, and felt that the flowing of our process of improvisation was more important than any preconceived musical destination.



Here are some notes on the individual tracks from the recording:


  1. Dary (5:09)


A reflection on – and continuation of – the song, “The Invisible Man” (Mikhi Nathan Mu Toma), dedicated to Seckou’s father, from his CD, “22 Strings”.  The spirit of this song became manifest when Seckou named his youngest son after his father, Dary.  This piece is also the first thing Seckou player for Omar when they met in the recording studio.  Omar felt like it was a song of peace, reflecting each of their inner voices in one unique, common voice.


  1. In The Forest (5:14)


This piece reflects a moment for Omar of gazing out from a balcony into the beauty of nature, out over the splendor of the sea and mountains… peaceful, reflective… completely improvised, and listening to each other’s musical voices.


  1. Black Dream (5:24)


Based on a dream Omar had of something that goes on and on, never ending, like a waterfall, integrating the three colors of piano, kora and sheng… introspective.


  1. Mining-Nah (4:11)


‘Mining-nah’ means “hold me tight” in Seckou’s native language, Mandinka.  Love can fall apart, even after a long run, but we can also prove everyone wrong.  ‘Mining-nah sama-khol’ means “hold me tight, my love”.  ‘Sama-khol’ refers to my heart, in Wolof.


  1. Tama-Tama (4:55)


Originally, this piece came about through a tuning mistake, when Seckou was taking care of his daughter and trying to tune his kora at the same time.  Tama-Tama is an open-minded journey – as sometimes we encounter pleasant surprises simply because we’re ready to receive.  Tama-Tama, in the Mandinka language of West Africa, means travel or voyage.


  1. Another Prayer (5:13)


Sometimes you ask for something, and there’s no answer.  You’re waiting for an answer to come from some part of the universe… and then a musical note or phrase arrives and gives you the answer… another prayer is answered.  Omaroriginally called this piece “11 11 11”, a day he was waiting for an answer…


  1. Fatiliku (5:38)


Fatiliku means ‘to remember’ in Seckou’s native language, Mandinka.  This song was part of Seckou’s childhood, part of the kora repertoire.  It traveled with him to his meeting with Omar and his encounter with folkloric Cuban traditions, and both artists reflected on the similarities, rather than the differences, between their musical cultures.


  1. Oni Yalorde (3:53)


This song is dedicated to the Yoruba goddess of the river and fresh water, Ochun, who’s always ready to give sweetness and love.


  1. Peace Keeping (4:48)


A simple song about being peaceful through music, about finding peace inside through music, expressed in a blues-like form… always trying to express our devotion to peace.  When Omar and Seckou arrived in the recording studio, there were so many conflicts and wars raging in the world, so holding their instruments and improvising together became their moment of peace.


  1. Moro Yeye (4:36)


Another song devoted to the Yoruba deity of water, pleasure, sexuality, beauty and love, Ochun.  When Omar was at Wu Tong’s studio in Beijing, he heard the Bawu flute for the first time, and said, “here is another voice of Ochun”.


  1. Recaredo 1993 (4:19)


Omar created this piece for a wine tasting in Catalunya, for a 1993 award-wining cava (a sparkling wine, like transparent water) from the Recaredo winery.


  1. Zululand (3:01)


When Omar introduced Seckou to the melody of this piece, Seckou felt a settled groove on his 22-string kora.  He felt like he was part of a busy South African village where daily conversations break into song from time to time.


  1. Thiossane (4:09)


This word means culture / tradition.  Seckou comments that culture and tradition should be kept alive in everyday life.  This piece is a conversation between Omar and Seckou about translating the poetic aspects of life into musical form.



How did your collaborative relationship with Seckou Keita and Gustavo Ovalles come about?


The idea for the project grew out of my impromptu addition to a mid–2012 concert date with my former drummer Marque Gilmore at the CLF Art Café in London.  This was my first musical encounter with Seckou and I was profoundly moved by the experience.  I told Seckou I wanted to invite him to work together on a future recording project.  Given our respective touring and recording schedules, it took a year, but in July 2013 we went into the Fattoria Musica recording studio in Osnabrück, Germany and laid down the core tracks for Transparent Water.


The core tracks for “Transparent Water” were recorded at Fattoria Musica Recording Studio in Osnabrück, Germany


How has your sound changed in the process of making Transparent Water?


When I collaborate with new musicians, I feel it’s important for each artist to stay true to their own roots and traditions, and if each of us does that, the music will flow more freely and easily than if one of us tries to direct the others and tell the others what to play.  Music has innate abilities to fuse and coalesce across seemingly disparate cultural, political, and social boundaries.


Do you feel that your collaborators have influenced the way you approach music?


Everywhere I go in the world, I’m fascinated by the folkloric music of a place, and I love discovering new instruments and new types of musical expression.  As often as I can, I try to find opportunities to collaborate with musicians from cultures and styles I’m learning about.  Just now I’m working on new music with a singer from Iraq which I’m very excited about!


What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance of Transparent Water?


I hope that people coming to our show will get a sense of the joy of shared artistic expression, and that we can get the audience to join us in singing and moving with the music.  People will also get to experience the kora, an amazing 21-string instrument from West Africa, played by one of the great masters on the planet.  And people will also get to experience some very interesting folkloric percussion instrument from Venezuela that Gustavo will have with him, including quitiplas and culo’e puya.  Gustavo is also a master player of maracas, which is a sight to behold!


The kora, “an amazing 21-string instrument from West Africa,” played by Seckou Keita


What’s been inspiring you lately?


One new project I’m working on is a collaboration with the Cuban violinist / vocalist, Yilian Cañizares, who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.  We have recorded a new CD called Aguas, so you can see I’m a bit obsessed with the concept of water!  We’re planning to release the CD in September.  It’s a very personal album, and reflects the perspectives of two generations of Cuban artists living outside their homeland, interpreting their roots and traditions in subtle and unique ways.  We hope to tour in the United States in the Fall of 2019.