He was speaking to music students, but the advice Omar Sosa gave during his Wednesday workshop at Polk State Winter Haven was more about life than chords and keys.
“Listen to your teachers. Travel the world. Have your own voice. Love others, but love yourself first. No one else is going to love you more than you do,” Sosa said.
Sosa, a Cuban-born musician and bandleader, whose career has taken him around the world and garnered him seven Grammy nominations, is in town to perform as part of Polk State’s Jewel of the Ridge Jazz Festival.
Before taking the stage, however, Sosa took some time to inspire members of Polk State’s jazz ensemble.
During his nearly two-hour workshop, Sosa led the students through a handful of exercises. They listened to music from Africa and Cuba. They jammed and danced.
The point of it all, Sosa explained, was to help the students feel the music, not just play the notes.
“We have to let our energy go. We have to play without rehearsal, relax our minds, and just play what is inside,” Sosa coaxed the class.
While being able to play and dance with abandon can be scary, Sosa explained, it is also what sets the most talented musicians apart from the technically skilled.
“A lot of people play really good,” he said, but when musicians can feel the music, they create a sound that audiences hear from their hearts, not just their ears.
“When you have the instrument in hand, you have the power to move people’s souls,” Sosa said. “With one note, you can tell the people to love their moms, their fathers, their brothers and sisters.”
One of the best ways to better connect with people through music, Sosa told the students, is simply to be around as many different people as possible.
“Travel. When you travel, you open the window to the world, and a lot of things start to change for you,” he said, adding that he left Cuba for Congo to learn about different cultures.
No matter where they end up in the world, Sosa encouraged the students to learn from their elders.
“Study them and listen to them. We are nothing if we don’t give respect and reverence to our elders,” he said.
For those serious about making music their careers, Sosa had two practical pieces of advice: practice, practice, practice, and hire managers who are passionate about music, too.
“Surround yourself with people who have a light and love for what you do,” Sosa said.
All semester, the Polk State Lake Wales Arts Center has sponsored master classes with visiting artists. Director Osubi Craig describes the master classes as invaluable opportunities for budding artists to learn from professionals.
Sosa and his Quarteto AfroCubano will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Polk State Lake Wales Arts Center. A full schedule of Jewel of the Ridge Jazz Festival events can be found here, or for additional information, call 863.298.6883, email LWAC@polk.edu, or visit polk.edu/artscenter. All events are free.