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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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In a silent way
Pianist Oma Sosa unveils a quieter sound

Omar Sosa
Thursday, April 26, UW Music Hall, 8 pm

After five years Omar Sosa brings the orishas' music back to town. Madison has special affection for Sosa, who's played here twice, since he's a son of our Cuban sister city, Camagüey. Last time we saw him he was backed by a wailing trio plus Oakland hip-hop prophet Brutha Los. On this tour it's the Afreecanos quartet, fortunately with all visas in place and featuring, besides Sosa, fellow Cuban expat Julio Barreto on drums, Senegalese vocalist Mola Sylla and Mozambiquan bassman Childo Tomas.

In '02 Sosa ' spiritual son of Obatalá, Santería patron of wisdom, insanity and white cloth ' played piano like a man possessed by powerful young spirits. Has he changed? 'I'm the same, with my candle and white clothes ' just a little older and more Africanista. We're playing intense music, but my sound's matured a little. I have two kids, I'm in my 40s. I see things slightly differently. I feel more admiration for silence. I have great respect for the notes that aren't played.'

Sosa's most recent albums, on his regular label, Oakland's indie Otè, bear out this self-assessment. Sosa's quieter new sound has Cuba-edged echoes of Charles Lloyd's rolling, modal love-in music from the '60s, with some mbalax, montunos and bits of bembé in the mix. Sosa was a baby when Lloyd was playing hippie jazz, but musically and philosophically they share antiwar sensibilities. 'I'm totally against war,' Sosa says. 'Whatever war it is, a flower is always better than a bullet.'

Living outside of Cuba, Sosa says, let him discover universal human truth. 'Its force comes through the spirits. As musicians, we transmit the message. My group is international, but we're not from places. We're from the world.'

Sosa finds unity in various 21st-century diaspora combinations. He melds harmonic convergences on Mulatos, an '04 studio album featuring Cuban clarinet superstar Paquito D'Rivera and an interesting short slate of oud, tabla, percussion and electronics players.

Sosa's latest recording, Promise, recorded live with the Afreecanos quartet, taps deep into his more familiar Afro-Cuban roots. Promise, he says, provides most of the themes for next Thursday's show at UW Music Hall. The opener, 'Eleggua en do,' a polyphonic, polyrhythmic chant, asks the ancestral spirits to open the door. ''Ibaye,' the words go,' he says. 'Rest in peace, bring us light.'

Also on Promise are 'Two Afreecanos' and 'Welcome,' gems highlighting Sosa's multifaceted keyboard playing with Sylla on m'bira, singing in Wolof. The last tune on the disc, 'Iyade,' a perfect concert-closer, is a hip-slippin' son that lets the Cuban in Sosa's music out of the bag.

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