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omar sosa

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Best Traditional World Music Album Grammy Nominee 2010


"Across The Divide began like a shooting star - a luminous certainty that two folkloric musicians, a Cuban pianist and a New England multi-instrumentalist specializing in native and adopted American musics, could trace the connections between seemingly disparate worlds of thought.

The crystallizing element in assembling this narrative was rhythm, heard through a melding and mingling of cultures and manifesting the shared roots between Omar Sosa and Tim Eriksen. No surprise, really. During the forced migration of slaves, a practice that spanned centuries and fed the triangulated economies of Europe, Africa, and the Americas, indigenous musics and performance traditions entered New World ports, among them Havana and Chesapeake Bay. These strains of expression took root and became the basis for much popular culture".

-Jeff Levenson

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In what might be considered a heartfelt ode to Africa, Cuba and America, Grammy-winning pianist/composer, Omar Sosa offers Across The Divide: A Tale Of Rhythm & Ancestry. Both inspired and uplifting it encompasses a "song cycle" that documents the shared rhythms of Sosa's ancestry and Tim Eriksen, a New England ethno-musicologist specializing in native and adopted American music.

The program musically tells of the paths of history towards the present; informed of the Middle Passage slave ships bound for America to the election of Barack Obama, the United States' first African-American president. Blending jazz, folk, song and spoken word, with both acoustic/electronic instruments and technologies, it emphatically embraces the differences and celebrates the similarities of cultures.

Recorded live at New York's Blue Note (with savvy post production sound sculpting), Sosa's sextet presented a thought provoking and entertaining performance. Divergent styles are experienced in "Promised Land" where Eriksen hauntingly sings an 18th century Welsh hymn, better known as "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah," and still commonly heard in Black churches in the South. His Celtic-tinged voice in contrast with the melody, interspersed with sampled readings from Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. This followed by the exhilarating "Glu-Glu," a dancing instrumental filled with the sounds of chants as Sosa rises with prismatic soloing.

The remaining tracks move between equally eclectic shores. "Gabriel's Trumpet" a mid-19th century tune from Maine, is reborn as American folklore meets Afro-Cubano; Eriksen's rural dialect meshed comfortably within the soulful, jazzed gospel groove. The stirringly poignant "Across Africa" pieces are encapsulated in a rain forest of sounds including piano, flute, and electronica such as the sampled voices of Sosa's children.

Sosa, Eriksen and cast of other talents unveil a place where the banjo is at peace with the saxophone, the piano is kin to kalimba, disparate languages are translated, and music across varied borders finds commonality. Another profound recording by the continually searching Omar Sosa.

--Mark F. Turner


Sosa's Across the Divide was my only new comfort record this year. It's a powerful, spiritual record that features Tim Eriksen, who sings traditional Anglo-American ballads with musicality and soul, and plays a nice banjo too.

Superficially, it resembles one of those mash-ups of legacy singing voices with new tracks (of which, Little Axe's underappreciated 1995 release The Wolf That House Built, is the best I've heard.) But this is not a mash-up; it was recorded live on stage at New York's Blue Note jazz club, together with the singer. It's on the Blue Note's label, Half Note; the album's producer, Jeffrey Levenson, also contributed first-rate liner notes.

It's not a bunch of overdubs stacked up over programming. I saw Sosa's group in April, with Eriksen, and I'm here to tell you they played it live, including the Langston Hughes samples that Sosa triggered from the piano.

The samples figure in the album's first cut, "Promised Land," Sosa's setting of an 18th-century Welsh hymn in Eriksen's repertoire. (You can read more about Sosa and Eriksen's collaboration here.) Recalling the free blacks who emigrated from Seville to the Americas (negros curros, they were called in Cuba), Hughes speaks from beyond the grave, the way ancestors do: "By the early 1500s black explorers were coming to the New World. They came as explorers." A trailing echo underscores the word: explorers... and Eriksen's voice returns.

There's something going on here besides a Cuban piano virtuoso with a band to match. The music proposes the paradox of hemispheric history. Sosa is telling a story, or maybe it would be better to say he's exploring a question through music, not only across the divide of black and white, but also of two great musical-cultural regions of the New World - the former empires of England and Spain, with their distinct associated African legacies. Eriksen's banjo is in the "white" tradition, but the banjo is an African-descended instrument. The album's standout, "Gabriel's Trumpet," passes the goosebumps test. But more than that--it begins with just banjo and maraca. Which sounds good, but then you think: wait a minute, I've never heard these two instruments playing together before. And you haven't, because they come from different traditions. The banjo is as absent from the folk music of Cuba as the maraca is from black music in the United States. Moreover, they come from different parts of Africa.

- Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette

 
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