By Herb Boyd | Published April 2021
Cuban-born pianist Omar Sosa might not be a professional ethnomusicologist, but his passion for global sounds and sundry genres gets a singular stamp on An East African Journey, where he focuses attention on music from various ethnic groups in East Africa.
Monja Mahafay, a folkloric musician from Madagascar, is gifted with divination from his mother, and that sacred spirit is exuded by “Sabo.” Sosa’s piano embraces Mahafay’s traditional rhythm on marovany (a box zither), and at the same time embellishes the song with contemporary jazz modulation. More of this approach would have given the journey an added combination of the old and new worlds, but Sosa chooses not to interfere much in the music from Burundi on “Kwa Nyogokuru,” where an instrument sounds akin to a thumb piano; or the metallic rhythms from Ethiopia approximating the spoons played in the Mississippi delta on “Tizeta.”
Abel Ntalasha sings in Lenje, a Bantu language of central Zambia, and performs on the kalumbu—an instrument that resembles the
berimbau of Brazil. His song “Shibinda” is a kind of love call from a young man seeking a bride. Once he succeeds in finding a mate, the instrument traditionally is destroyed; let’s hope that’s not the case on this occasion.
With this project, Sosa takes another decisive and intriguing venture, and in doing so provides greater exposure to talented musicians far from mainstream Western culture.
An East African Journey: Tsiaro Tsara; Thuon Mok Loga; Elrababa; Eretseretse; Che Che; Veloma E; Kwa Nyogokuru Revisited; Tizeta; Sabo; Meinfajria; Shibinda; Dadilahy; Ravann Dan. (55:56)
Personnel: Omar Sosa, piano; Rajery, valiha; Olith Ratego, nyatiti; Seleshe Damessae, krar; Steven Sogo, umuduri; Menwar, percussion, vocals; Mola Sylla, vocals; Monja Mahafay, marovany; Abel Ntalasha, kalumbu, vocals; Christophe Minck, keyboard bass, electronics; Childo Tomas, bass; Steve Argüelles, drums, percussion.