When looking for a description of the music Bobby Oroza makes, you may lean into some familiar territory: vintage-sounding, dreamy, sensual, a deep cut on some wonderfully odd indie-love-film soundtrack. And, yes, all of those attributes are accurate—but still, they fall desperately short of describing what Bobby and company have provided us in a short amount of time.
It can be hard to describe the universal, the aspects of life that are both widely shared and intimate. But it’s these very instances that influenced, shaped, and continue to form Bobby Oroza forward. Raised in the immigrant-populated Eastern Center section of Helsinki, Finland, Bobby was born to a Bolivian mother and Finnish father. His family, his neighborhood, and the music that coursed through it all was his cosmos.
The family record collection was a major backdrop, ranging from South American folk to Motown hits to Doo-wop crooners. All sides of the family filled it and returned to it again and again. And then, to hear Bobby tell it, just as impactful was the familial, communal music experiences they shared—the songs they would all and always sing together.
Bobby’s maternal side provided a Latin vitality. His mother—a Bolivian poet and tango singer in her not-so-distant past—studied and taught music in Finland and was responsible for one-half of that eclectic record collection. Her father, his grandfather, was always singing, strumming Bolivian classics on the guitar during the ever-present family gatherings and functions.
On the other side of the household was Bobby’s father, a Finnish jazz guitarist and musician. The albums with his fingerprints had labels like Blue Note and Prestige on them. Bobby even remembers his father coming home from a trip through Africa, and suddenly Ethiopian and West African records had representation on the shelves. But it was also the various jam sessions and gatherings of local jazz musicians that his father organized and included him in that unquestionably added to Bobby’s musical exposure.
It wasn’t long after attending an event that his father organized and performed in that Bobby considered playing himself. “After that, I really got into guitar,” Bobby remembers. “I started learning Django Reinhardt and jazz, and started listening to people I still listen to today, like Grant Green.” From there, it wasn’t a far reach for him to study the electric guitar. And then, for refinement, he moved into playing acoustic, like Flamenco and Brazilian styles. But even these memories are somewhat tricky for Bobby to conjure up—music has just always been the universal fabric his life has been sewn into.
Fast-forward a bit, and we enter that typical stretch of a musician’s early career: playing gigs where he could, working construction on the side while trying to connect with local bands, and getting by all in-between. “I was just playing around everywhere, mainly with pop artists. But my main interest was always producing my own songs and writing my own stuff,” Bobby confesses.
He admits that, at the time, there wasn’t a sizable scene in Finland for the music he found himself drawn to and always making: a stripped-down rhythm and blues with a familiar-yet-updated heavy measure of lofi soul.
The (maybe lazily described) “throwback sound” he developed then and has since embodied was a natural fit to Bobby. “For me, a big part of it is that I enjoy the process of analog recording and producing,” Bobby begins to explain. “And, of course, a lot of my musical references are from those eras of producing. We’re using a lot of the same equipment from then to record our music now.” For Bobby, the tools used have as much of a say in his sound as he does. Combine his sensitivity to these textures with these vintage approaches, and Bobby never feels he’s trying to “achieve” a sound—it’s more of an inspiration, something found and followed. As they say, the medium itself can often be the message.
In 2016, it just made sense for Bobby to submit a demo to Cold Diamond & Mink, the house band and label managers to the funk imprint Timmion Records, located in Helsinki. While a raw and rough recording—just Bobby on a laptop mic, using a sampler as his backing accompaniment—it easily piqued interest. Before long, they all were in the studio producing a record together. And it ended up being called, This Love.
Released on Skylark Records, a Timmion sublabel, the initial single was the album-titled, immediate-classic “This Love”—a pleader in the universal unit of a love song with dense drums, a thicky bouncing baseline, and scouring hypnotic guitar—was wholly well-received by the global soul community. Even rappers ranging from Earl Sweatshirt to Russ to Curren$y have sampled and reworked Bobby’s songs—a validating nod of sorts to Bobby’s sultry musicianship as well as Cold Diamond and Mink’s astute backing on drums and bass.
With a smash arrival like this on the scene, it naturally attracted Brooklyn’s own Big Crown Records. This proved to be a fantastic fit, as it kept Bobby and Cold Diamond and Mink focused on being a band and pushing their sound and brought their soulful rock balladry into Big Crown’s already well-established fold. In 2018, the “This Love” single was re-released on Big Crown, with Bobby’s rendition of Sunny & the Sunliners’ 1969 single, “Should I Take You Home,” on the flip. A year later, the full length dropped.
Since then, Bobby’s talents have continued to expand and make their mark. The videos for the singles “This Love” and “Your Love Is Too Cold” are directed by him, Bobby exercising his darkly intriguing vision to follow his sound. But talent can be tested with strife, and no struggle was more significant than the year that was 2020.
With Coronavirus bringing the world to a halt, Bobby—now a father and husband—had to do something. With no tours to play or studio time to fill, Bobby found himself back in the construction yard, doing blue-collar work to provide for his family. “I was super grateful for the work—a lot of my colleagues didn’t have an option like that,” Bobby admits. “But I’m even more grateful to get back into the studio and use the energy from that time to create.”
With a new focus and a new outlook, Bobby and company are back with new material and a new record on the way. He says their sound has evolved, has a new maturity and confidence. Yes, there are more love songs—those poised, intimate universalities—but also songs with a renewed creativity, with new sounds and new instruments. And all propelled by the freedom Big Crown’s catalog is known for.
Of course, it still may be hard to nail down and define Bobby and his sound. But that may just be part of this universal appeal that just beyond mere definition: He’s no one thing more than the other.