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Pianist Omar Sosa says he found his musical voice while living in Oakland in the late 1990s. "With friends like Greg Landau and John Santos, we built something together beyond Latin jazz," Sosa said.

Omar Sosa spent little more than one-tenth of his life in the Bay Area, but he credits those five years with shaping his global musical vision.

Born and raised in Cuba, the conservatory-trained pianist absorbed the Western classical canon and a compendium of popular and folkloric Cuban styles before he left home. In 1995, after exploring the Afro-Ecuadoran culture of Esmeraldas, he settled in Oakland, where he forged deep ties with musicians such as John Santos, Greg Landau, Richard Howell, Yassir Chadly and Ron Stallings.

Living mostly in Barcelona, Spain, since 1999, Sosa has continued to expand a group sound that already encompassed Moroccan modes and Yoruban chants, hip-hop verse and jazz improvisation.

"I feel nostalgic about the Bay Area first, and after that Cuba," said Sosa, 47, via Skype from the Balearic island of Minorca, where he's lived with his wife and two children for the past year. "It's supposed to be reversed, but I developed all of what I do in the Bay Area. With friends like Greg Landau and John Santos, we built something together beyond Latin jazz."

Sosa returns to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon to kick off the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival with his Afreecanos Quartet featuring tenor saxophonist-percussionist Peter Apfelbaum, electric bassist Childo Tomas and drummer Marque Gilmore. The free series runs through October with more than 90 events, including dance, poetry, theater, music and children's programs featuring an international array of artists.

Sosa traces the origins of the Afreecanos band back to the Bay Area, when he first heard Apfelbaum's Hieroglyphics Ensemble and realized he had discovered a kindred spirit. But the Berkeley-raised multi-instrumentalist moved to Brooklyn not long afterward, and it wasn't until years later that Sosa had an opportunity to hire Apfelbaum for a European tour.

"Peter is one of my heroes," Sosa said. "I remember seeing Hieroglyphics and thinking this music is what I want to play. Peter started on keyboards, then moved to saxophone and then to the drums. I need to meet this guy!"

Sosa met Tomas just days after the Mozambican bassist moved to Barcelona in the late 1990s. Steeped in southern African grooves, "he puts this thump in my music," Sosa said. "The music comes from me, and he puts the stamp of Africa on it in the way I always dreamed."

The American-born, Stockholm-based Gilmore is a more recent addition to the fold. Sosa first heard the drum 'n' bass pioneer and founding member of the Black Rock Coalition during the drummer's tenure with Joe Zawinul, and realized his supple but metronomic beat would be an ideal engine for his ensemble. After some five years together, the quartet continues to distill its far-flung influences, while staying rooted in fundamentals.

"We're presenting an African vision in a contemporary voice, groove on soul," Sosa said. "We always look to Peter. He's the only white guy in the band, and we say, 'You're more black than all of us.' We call him Peter Afribaum."

1 p.m. Sun. Free. Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Howard streets, between Third and Fourth streets, S.F. (415) 543-1718.

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