Bobby Oroza’s mellow music paints a dreamy fantasy of intimate, cosy club sceneries somewhere far away. Despite being a rather recent artist, his single "This Love" has already been sampled by rapper Earl Sweatshirt, and can also be heard in multiple Netflix shows – and even in a feature film.
Have you ever met a guy with Finnish-Swedish-Norwegian-Bolivian origins?
The singer-songwriter Bobby Oroza happens to be all of that. Considering the kind of cosmopolitan background that Oroza has, it seems self-evident that he makes music from a very specific tradition. Thus his music career also has mostly happened abroad.
Oroza’s sensual and soft music has a dreamy, vintage atmosphere that could flow right out of an old transistor radio on a careless sunny afternoon at the beach.
His visual aesthetic is something you could find in a David Lynch film: vintage cars from the late 1950s, dark suits, long trench coats and red curtains.
“I’m not a fifties freak, but I do admit that I see a lot of beauty in that aesthetic”, he states through the phone on a rainy Autumn evening in Helsinki.
“It was a time when cars looked beautiful and not angry. And a suit has to look like you were born in it – it has to have that certain ease and elegance! I do have lot of romanticism and nostalgia towards that world and I’m very inspired by it, but of course I don’t hate modernity either.”
Musically, a listener might come to think of anything from the quirky vibes of the Texan-Venezuelan songwriter Devendra Banhart to the classic crooner Roy Orbison.
But in reality his tradition is much more specific than that. Oroza’s music derives from the tradition of Chicano soul, a kind of music made by Mexican-Americans near the southwest border of the United States.
From a family of artists
“Soul music is perhaps the nearest musical tradition for me”, Oroza analyzes.
“I grew up among that kind of music. My father Antti Nordin is a jazz guitarist and my mother is an ethnomusicologist. We had plenty of these kinds of records in our home when I was a kid.”
Oroza’s background is rather peculiar, so to say.
I recall tinkling an instrument as soon as I learned to walk. I played something all the time with my siblings.
He was born in the mid-eighties as Boris Nordin to family of artists. His stepsiblings are Reino and Siiri Nordin, both well known in the domestic Finnish music scene. His sister Franka Oroza is a songwriter as well. His artist name Bobby Oroza got from his Bolivian mother, Siboné Oroza, who is also a tango singer.
Oroza says that he never remembers particularly “choosing” a career as a musician.
“I recall tinkling an instrument as soon as I learned to walk. I played something all the time with my siblings.”
A visit to Cuba changed everything
Oroza studied music in two Finnish conservatories, in Helsinki as well as Joensuu, a town in Eastern Finland. He never graduated.
“I guess I’m a chronical dropout”, Oroza chuckles.
However, during his last year in high school he got an opportunity to travel to Cuba in order to learn the local music tradition.
“I was there for a few months. It was very intensive: every day I had an instrument lesson, a singing lesson and a percussion lesson.”
The crucial thing in making music is having fun and giving the folks an opportunity to let go: to dream and to dance – even if for just a short moment.
The visit made Oroza change his perspective on music.
“The Cuban viewpoint was something unprecedented: the children grew right into the music by hanging out at rehearsals. As soon as they got a bit older they were given an instrument.”
That was something different Oroza was accustomed to.
“I understood that the crucial thing in making music is having fun and giving the folks an opportunity to let go: to dream and to dance – even if for just a short moment.”
Commenting a tradition
Despite making music his whole life, it took a while for Bobby Oroza to incarnate as a solo artist.
“Essentially I just needed to get a good band around the songs. I’m glad that I now have a group of people with me who I can work with. It is a band, after all.”
His band, Cold Diamond & Mink, is known as the “house band” for the Helsinki-based Timmion Records.
Oroza speaks vividly about his home heroes: he mentions names like Joe Bataan, a Latin soul legend with roots in both Puerto Rico and the Philippines, or Sunny Ozuna, a singer from southern Texas.
“The thing I especially love in Latin soul is the melodrama. It’s something very palpable, something that truly is rough around the edges. Not too polished.”
Oroza’s musical community is very much based in North America. His record label, Big Crown Records, hails from New York. Oroza himself has also gotten to know the local soul scenes on both coasts.
The thing I especially love in Latin soul is the melodrama. It’s something very palpable, something that truly is rough around the edges.
Has anyone ever questioned why a fellow all the way from Finland wants to go to the other side of the world to play this kind of music?
“Not really! Thanks to my mother, I speak Spanish, so in that way I can kind of relate to the Latin identity – but of course the music from that tradition not ‘my music’ per se. My music rather comments that tradition.”
Oroza praises the scenes in New York and on the West Coast for being eclectic and permissive to begin with.
“Therefore the response has been very welcoming.”
Approved by Earl Sweatshirt
Oroza is going back to the USA later this Autumn after playing a handful of shows in Europe. He thanks his record label Big Crown Records for not only doing successful marketing, but also being people who are easy to work with.
“I’m happy to call them my friends. Everything has worked very naturally, and nothing feels strained or pushed.”
His debut album This Love was released in May and ended up on three different Billboard charts.
Big Crown Records also got the title track to be featured in two Netflix shows: the comedy series Master of None and the documentary series Flint Town. The song also appears on the soundtrack of the Hollywood film Ingrid Goes West.
If this wasn’t enough, even the underground rap maestro Earl Sweatshirt built his track Hat Trick / Human Error around a sample from the song.
“A few other rappers also used the sample, as far as I know. Earl is after all a bit outside of the mainstream radar, and he follows the vinyl single market avidly. I guess that’s the way he found the song."
Bobby Oroza's fall 2019 live dates:
October 12: Reims, France
October 13: Nancy, France
October 16: Brussels, Belgium
October 17: Paris, France
October 18: Bethune, France
October 19: Lille, France
October 21: Dublin, IRL
October 22: London, UK
October 23: Amsterdam, Netherland
October 25: Strasbourg, France
October 30: Stuttgart, Germany
October 31: Zurich, Switzerland
November 1: Linz, Austria
November 2: Berlin, Germany
November 15: Santa Ana, CA
November 16: Los Angeles, CA
More tour info on Bobby Oroza's website.