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Music Review An elegant demonstration of the power of cross-continental collaboration

Omar Sosa And Seckou Keita
SJE Arts Oxford


COLLABORATIONS exploring the links between Caribbean and African music have borne some delicious fruit in recent years. 2010’s wonderful Afro-Cubism brought together musicians from Cuba and Mali in a kind of Buena Vista goes global redux.

Compared to the “supergroup” flamboyance this collaboration between Cuban pianist Sosa and Senegalese kora player Keita (along with Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles) feels a lot more understated. Not that there are not moments of great exuberance — there most certainly are — but this is music that takes its time to evolve and expand.

And it is definitely time well spent. The opening track is based around classic salsa rhythms on the piano and bongoes, with Keita’s kora woven seamlessly into the sound, showcasing the very best of both worlds.

Following that opening, however, the sound swiftly switches to something much more introspective and unique, as Sosa’s sparkling high-end flourishes entwine with the kora to produce a twinkling and serene cascade of melody.

The high vaults of the church act as a giant sustain pedal, adding to the overall ethereality of the sound, and there is much improvisation at work, with many of the tracks built around one central motif, allowing each player maximum freedom to pursue their creative impulses.

At times, the piano seems to mimic the trickling cadences of the kora, and as the set progresses, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish who is playing what, as if all six hands are being controlled by one mind and playing one instrument.

Then suddenly, around five songs in, the sound is stripped right back as percussionist Ovalles breaks into a pounding rumba rhythm, Sosa joins in by hammering on the inside of his baby grand, while Keita adds some spine-tingling talking drum.

With our senses now fully awakened, the musicians then take us to the most innovative and compelling piece of the set, a dreamy, looping build up of ambient intensity, based around the sounds of trickling water, from what seems to be Ovalles’s ablutions.

It is an elegant and entrancing demonstration of the power of cross-continental collaboration.

Dan Glazebrook
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