Forbidden Jazz Sets a Man Free

Performances and Artists

Growing up in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s rule, Omar Sosa was taught from an early age that American jazz was purely forbidden, as “the music of the enemy.”

So naturally, he sought it out.

“As soon as you’re told as a kid, ‘Don’t do this,’ the kid’s going to do it,” the now legendary jazz musician and seven-time Grammy nominee recalls with a chuckle.

He and his friends discovered jazz during late-night gatherings at a secret hideout. While the rest of the country slept, the boys absorbed poorly copied cassettes and VHS videos of renowned jazz musicians, all smuggled illegally into the country. Sometimes, they listened to what little they could pick up on the radio from Florida stations.

The quality of the recordings was distorted and nearly indiscernible. But it was enough for Sosa to recognize that these were the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard.

“We fell in love with the music of the enemy, because it was full of soul,” Sosa says. “For me, jazz is a philosophy of freedom. What person doesn’t want to be free on this planet?”


Unity Through Music

Believing every experience has shaped him as a musician, Sosa now incorporates both his childhood of stifled artistry and his love for jazz’s freedom into his vivacious, multi-cultural music.

Boldly integrating his AfroCuban roots with improvisational jazz, hip-hop and electronic elements, he says every note embodies a strong, underlying message: Unity.

“It’s a gift to be able to travel the whole world and deliver a message of unity and peace,” Sosa says. “What I’ve learned over the years is if you give love, there’s no way you can’t receive love. This is the way I try to live.”


A Musical Message for the World

When Sosa mentions traveling the world, he doesn’t exaggerate. In Paris this week, Sosa performs next week in Columbia, then the United States and afterward Japan and Sweden.

He maintains this international touring schedule throughout the year, taking no breaks.

“Some people ask me if I travel too much, if I’m tired,” he says. “I say, ‘If the opportunity comes, we need to take it. We only live one time.’”

His goal isn’t wealth or fame, he emphasizes.

Sosa aims to deliver his musical message to as many nations and continents as he can, he says, so others may find the same transformative connection to new cultures as he did in his childhood.

He sees that connection occur with every performance, he adds, whether Sosa and his band play at Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note in Tokyo or a performing arts center in Algeria.

“If we all give this love to each other, if we share in this love all over the planet, maybe the world can be better,” Sosa says.


Omar Sosa performed with his Quarteto AfroCubano in October of 2017 in Myron’s Cabaret Jazz.