Qwest TV spoke to Finnish singer Bobby Oroza about creating raw soul music, learning life lessons in Cuba, and being sampled by Earl Sweatshirt.

“The music is stripped down, it’s not polished in any way, and it’s a level of communication that’s honest and straightforward,” says Bobby Oroza, the Finnish singer and bandleader who’s currently on tour with fellow soul man Lee Fields. Oroza is describing the appeal of his new album, This Love, which plays out as 12 tracks of gritty but melodic soul, and is released on Leon Michels and Danny Akalepse’s Big Crown label.

What’s your musical background?

My parents are musicians, all my brothers and sisters play instruments, my grandparents too. So there would always be music in my home and instruments around and we’d have frequent parties all the time and everybody would sing and play. My dad’s a jazz guitarist so that music is the closest to me in a way — there were Charlie Christian songs I’d play all the time, plus people like Grant Green with beautiful guitar melodies. But my mother would also play lots of Latin American music so I’d be influenced by Brazilian classics as well, very rootsy Latin American music and Cuban music.

Is it true you lived in Cuba for a while to study music?

Yeah, when I was 18-years-old I dropped out of high school for a while — I did go back and finish — and I went to Cuba for four months and studied extensively there. It was like every day I had one or two lessons of music and in the evening I’d see different shows and sometimes I’d participate myself if I was given some small role in a band. I’m a chronic dropout of music schools but Cuba, for me, that was really my music school.

What’s the biggest thing you learned from your time in Cuba?

There was this one old man I got to know and he’d been through a lot — he was a beautiful man and he said you can practice all you want and learn all the techniques, but if your music lacks your true original unique expression, then it’s practically worth nothing. Then he laughed! At that point, when you’re trying to find your own voice and means of expression, it left me thinking. Now I think he was right — you need to be true with your music and express your own personality and that’s what makes it universal in a way.

What was the first song you recorded for the new album? Did it set a template for the direction you wanted to go in?

We had no plans at all! We just recorded “This Love,” and me and the band had similar musical references, like we were heavily into the Chicano west coast low rider sound and we were seeking out artists and living with those records. For me, as a half-Latin person, it was an interesting way to connect with my roots and my identity and also make my identity. So things just came together and we went into some deep, raw expression — we didn’t want to polish anything, we just wanted to capture a moment where it felt real.

“This Love” was sampled by Earl Sweatshirt on his song “Hat Trick.” How did you feel when you heard it?

I really liked what he did with it. It’s an interesting and inspiring feeling when an artist like that takes something you make and turns it into a whole new thing. I grew up with sampling and hip-hop myself and it’s a very natural feeling and process to experience music that way. I was happy it was an artist like Earl Sweatshirt who I can respect as a musician.

What sort of hip-hop were you into?

J Dilla would be the one for me that made the biggest impact. Pete Rock, too, and also a couple of records like Soundbombing 2 [on Rawkus] because it was so musically and verbally powerful that I was so affected by it and so enchanted by it. My dad’s a jazz guitarist and a connoisseur of all types of all music, and I’d start sampling with my MPC and he’d be like, “Yeah, I know that song, I know where it’s taken from.”

What about Dilla’s music appeals to you?

That it doesn’t remind me of anything else and it’s not a reference to something even though it’s sampling. All the time it’s continuing the tradition of a certain type of music but it’s unique and original and you can hear him there. You can hear Dilla’s unique and raw way of expression.

Have you ever written a song to Dilla’s beats?

No, but I could listen to his instrumentals all day. It’s a beautiful ambience and it provokes you to think something. Maybe that would be an interesting thing to do, to write a song over some of Dilla’s more obscure instrumentals…

Bobby Oroza, This Love (Big Crown Records)

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Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée | With the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union With the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union