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Chris Searle on Jazz All sounds cohere in this genre-defying beauty

Transparent Water
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita
(World Village WWF4 79125)

WHY did I instinctively think of the name Cuito Cuanavale when I first heard this record? My memory went directly back to the brave victory of Cuban and Angolan forces over the apartheid army in 1987-88, one of the key moments of African and Caribbean history in our lifetimes. 

For here is a Cuban pianist, Omar Sosa, playing with the Senegalese Kora virtuoso Seckou Keita, in an inspiring album of tunes all written by the duo and recorded in June 2013 in Osnabruck, Germany. 

Not that this is an explicitly political album, but Transparent Water is a deeply reflective and spiritual record, full of devotion to the sounds, melodies and rhythms of both Africa and Latin America — particularly as the third man playing drums, claves, maracas ad other percussion is the Venezuelan Gustavo Ovalles. It is very much a powerful bonding of continents and their people’s music. 

Sosa was born in Camaguey, Cuba in 1965, and began his musical life playing marimbas from eight years old. Turning to piano, he eventually graduated from the Escuela Nacional Musica in Havana, and in 1993 moved to Quito, Ecuador, then to San Francisco in 1995, where he became deeply involved in the Latin Jazz scene with percussionist John Santos, and recorded with Carlos “Patato” Valdes and David Garibaldi. 

In 1999 he moved on to Barcelona, and by 2012 he was recording the album Alma with the Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and playing in the Quarteto Afro-Cubana with cellist Leandro Saint-Hill and drummer Ernesto Simpson (both fellow Camagueyanos) and the Mozambican bassist Childo Tomas.

Keita was born in Lindiane, in the south of Senegal. His grandmother was the celebrated historian and griot Jali Kemo Cissokho, and his entire family has inherited her dedication. 

He strives to create a musical amalgam of the four most common Kora tunings — from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mali. “Everything in music has to be honest,” he maintains, “and the deeper meanings of the songs and melodies must be preserved.”

All Africa is in Keita’s resonating strings, and as they introduce the album’s opener Dary before the melodism of Sousa’s keys peal through the German studio, it is as if two continents have come to Europe, with Ovalles’s maracas giving keen witness to the South American reality. 

The slow, pausing effects of In the Forest unify the tropical mass of West Africa and Amazonas and one, unified people emerge striving for their stolen land. 

As Keita strums his Kora at the outset of Black Dream, another continent is evoked in the concertina-like sounds of guest Wu Tong’s sheng. What unity resides in this dream, what ideal concord? For that is the sense of the sounds.

The magical joint improvisation of Tama-Tama is an expression of empathy-in-harmony, and as Ovalles eventually joins the duo it is as if his own marvelling radiates from his drums, so vocal are they. 

Wu Tong returns for Another Prayer and adds to the warm but mysterious serenity of the musical conclave. Keita’s beautiful blues-like cadences fall and dive like cormorants all through Fatiliku and the riffs sound like the birth sounds of Peanut Vendor, as if Keita and Africa are gifting the Americas a people’s theme. Through Oni Yalorde, Wu Tong blows a bawu and moves the harmonies eastwards again. 

Sosa and Keita’s shared melodism is at the heart of Peace Keeping and Ovalles’s clipping bata drums add to the restrained drama of Moro Yeye. 

The notes of Japan enter Recaredo 1993 with Mieko Miyazaki’s Koto floating above the duo’s translucent rhythms. Then it is a journey southwards to explore the sonics of Zululand, although the aery, flying sounds hardly seem to touch the earth. 

Translucent Water is an astonishing album. Is it jazz, is it world music, is it folk, is it Latin, is it Africa? 

It doesn’t matter. It is all these categories while having no category at all, such unanimity does it provoke. What it tells us is that no music is on its own, all sounds cohere as they stretch for beauty. 

Chris Searle on Jazz appears every Tuesday in the paper edition of the Morning Star.

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