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A 10-episode series from I COLOR RADIO with the most important producers and arrangers of Salsa in the world. This week Oscar Ivan Lozano (OILO), the Colombian genius who started with Grupo Niche and who has worked with great stars of the genre such as Willy Garcia and Mauro Castillo.

by Carlos Passage


Oscar Ivan Lozano was born in a magical town, in the jungle of the Pacific Ocean of Colombia where it never stops raining.

“Suddenly the afternoon has cleared up, because the rain is already falling in detail. It falls or fell. Rain is something that undoubtedly happens in the past…” said Borges about rain.

In Andagoya, Chocó, West Coast of Colombia, the town where Oscar Ivan was born, rain does not only happen in the past. It continues to be part of today and will be part of the future.

But with all the floods that happen there annually, the people, especially the young, have a proud and strong spirit. When he was not yet 18, Oscar Iván saw the Grupo Sandunga from Cali, the so-called World Capital of Salsa, in concert in Andagoya in January 1997 and was impressed. Professional orchestras rarely performed in the middle of the humid and unexplored jungle, so he, who had a great love and passion for Salsa, got the dollar that the ticket cost at that time, and that changed his life. He had decided to be a musician. The young man who had just finished high school asked his father for money to move to Cali, about 8 dollars today, and with a suitcase full of dreams and few clothes, he set out on the adventure.


In Cali he lived with relatives in extreme poverty, got sick with sinusitis and lost a lot of weight. Food was scarce. However, he did not lose hope. He started knocking on doors, looking in the newspapers for opportunities as a musician in various orchestras, a distant dream: Oscar Ivan had no academic training. He only had his ear and an extraordinary talent ready to be polished and discovered.

Initially he wanted to be a percussionist but it was the piano that put him in the firmament of salsa. In any case there was a terrible problem that he had to solve: he did not have the instrument, and getting it was like traveling by rocket to the moon. When his economic situation improved he was able to save some money and asked the maestro Julio Cortez to bring him a keyboard from the United States. Cortez complied and brought him a Roland XP10.


One day Oscar Ivan received the call of his life: Jairo Varela, leader and founder of Grupo Niche needed a pianist. Oscar Ivan had never studied piano, he played it by ear with a feeling and magic that rarely happens, but he also knew all of Niche’s songs by heart. He auditioned, then had his first show in 2001 in El Salvador and from that moment on Oscar Ivan Lozano, OiLO, became the official pianist for Niche and Varela’s right-hand man as the group’s aspiring arranger.

The era with Niche was definitely his triumphant entry into the music business. Oscar Ivan remembers that Varela was very demanding when it came to work and he had to adapt to his work rhythm, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. “What Jairo liked the most,” says Oscar Ivan, “was that I always answered the phone, I was always available.”

With Varela, Oscar Ivan polished his method as an arranger, which in the future would lead him to the list of the most brilliant Salsa producers of his generation.


After Niche, he worked with Son de Cali, the duo made up of former Niche members Willy García and Javier Vásquez, playing piano and making arrangements. The Son de Cali phenomenon that earned a Grammy nomination and a Billboard award has also been one of the most glorious moments in Oscar Iván’s career.Oilo has also been key in the career of Mauro Castillo, who he has accompanied throughout his solo career. Castillo is one of only three Colombians who has had a number 1 on the Hot 100 in the entire history of the Billboard chart. That was with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Castillo was recently at the White House singing opera.


Oscar Iván says that playing the piano is the basis of his musical knowledge. He started playing it at the age of 17 when he moved from Andagoya to Cali. He says that his first foray into the piano was with a toy instrument, where his fingers did not fit on the keyboard. Today, says Oscar Iván, his life and career would not have been possible without the piano.

As the taste and smell of percussion is ingrained in his blood, his way of playing the piano is unique, and he himself cannot explain it. Every day he practices, discovers new sounds, listens to the work of Jazz masters such as Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, and he says that he will not have enough time to learn everything that the instrument offers. The Latin music pianists he most admires are Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Richie Ray, Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Palmieri, Chucho Valdes and Papo Lucca.

However, despite being a highly sought-after pianist, it is the arrangements that the industry mostly requests from Oscar Ivan.

He has worked with stars such as Choc Quib Town, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Andres Cepeda, Diego Torres and Ricky Martin.


He is currently collaborating with Mike Bahia, who is very enthusiastic about Salsa and Tropical music and is the musical director of Latin Grammy nominee Willy Garcia with whom he has been working for 13 years. Garcia is currently touring Colombia and will then tour the rest of the world in the second half of 2024. Oscar Ivan has been the main support of Willy’s sound since he began his solo career. He is his co-producer and main arranger.

Whether as an admired pianist, award-winning arranger, producer, composer, engineer, educator and enthusiast of technological advances, OiLO, Oscar Ivan Lozano is today one of the most influential personalities of Salsa in the world.


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