Ozomatli again

Caught Ozomatli (click here to open an Ozo jukebox while you read) again, this time at the 200 seat Grammy Museum in an event to mark the special exhibit “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom.” It was supposed to be just talk, but the full band, with a sit-in drummer, showed up with instruments totally rocking out a 200 seat theater instead of the overstuffed HOB Anaheim.

Ozomatli live, but not at the Grammy Museum
Ozomatli live, but not at the Grammy Museum

We were sitting right in the middle about halfway back…perfect seats. No pics allowed though, so the picture on the page is from their site.

They showed a film from their travels as emissaries of the US State department, jambassadors as they used to be called. It was a complex process, playing on behalf of an administration they disagreed with, but in the end they went for it and did speak out without burning a little Bush piñata on stage. They decided they could knock out some stereotypes about what Americans are like making sure they would be allowed to speak their minds. Not everyone was happy – they got hate mail from the New York Post, which they seemed pretty proud of.

One of them, I forget whom, remarked that they approach their activism through the music rather than vice versa, having the message arise organically from getting the music right, a la Fela Kuti, James Brown, or Bob Marley, rather than taking an aggro, in your face didactic approach.

With success, Ozo have found the they can’t always play what and where they want anymore because of  prior engagements and contracts, but they still try to do benefits and be politically active through the music. They talked about playing the Bowery Ballroom in NYC a week or so after 9/11 and what a powereful experience that was. They talked about playing in a parking lot that stood where the Grammy museum is now for what I guess was a protest against the building of the whole LA Live complex in 1999. I remember talking with Monisha on the way there, wondering what the neighborhood was before the whole Staples Center/LA Live complex was built.

LA provides an ambivalent inspiration for the band. The city’s eclecticism and diversity was like a macrocosm preparing them for meeting musicians and other people around the world by going around LA. At the same time, they grew up in the years of the riots and the peak of gang violence. Living in working class, immigrant neighborhoods they were exposed to a lot of violence growing up and they talked about how they kind of grew more political from experience and circumstance than from any ideological stance. For example, the violence went on until a white kid got killed, then all of sudden, Clinton comes in and says “no more of that.”

The host, Josh Kun from USC, asked about specific social movements and they responded by saying that music cuts across boundaries and unites people in ways that are unique, and that Ozomatli has tried to tap into this power by singing about the daily struggles to do the right thing. Hip hop acted as a huge bridge that people could respond to all around the world, but there were other moments that had to be negotiated even though they were intimidating, like the percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi playing tablas to a North Indian Percussion school, or the band playing salsa in Cuba, where the Cubans were like “well, ok” but then the Cubans tried playing some funk and Ozo could say “well ok” too, which made it easier for everyone to be comfortable playing what they played without worrying about it.

They finished up by talking about how they stayed together, Raul saying it was therapy, which brought a big laugh, but he said it was serious, and that they had to work through stuff and grow as people, and that over time they developed a commitment to each other that they never would have thought they would find with a bunch of guys.

Then they played a half hour set, telling a little story about each of the songs. They started with “Malagasy Shock,” with its message of seize the day. Then they played a song on what looks to me like a detuned acoustic tenor guitar teamed up with Turkish drums. The song was originally based around a Spanish chorus about the sun coming up, but came to be about the Asdru Sierra’s son, kind of like the Teletubbies sun kid he joked. Then came a reggae-ish song I don’t know, no story this time. Then a rapper whose name I also missed came up and pitched in on “City of Angels.” They finished with “Temperatura” They were in the studio during the May 1 demonstrations and decided to hit the streets rather than record. Instead of being a song about Ozo inspiring the masses, this one is about the masses inspiring them, a fitting way to finish up.

We hung out afterwards and talked to Josh a bit and Ozo’s manager, then checked out the exhibit while waiting in line to meet the band. I just got a new stack of rreplay CDs, so I gave them a couple. You can hear rreplay here and the rest of my music on WayMusic. Give it a listen if you made it this far.

They say “Ozo” we say “Motli”

OK, just because I am getting so behind here because of all the good music in LA…Ozomatli totally rocked the Disneyland House of Blues two Saturdays ago.  If you have never heard of this LA band, their albums are great, but their live show is amazing, one of the top five concerts I’ve ever been too.  I have just missed them three times at home in Hawaii…they are one of the few good bands from the continent to come through.

It was a packed house, but we got a great spot in the front center of the balcony, where it was not such a mob scene and Monisha could see.  Plus it was right over the sound board, so the sound was great. A woman about my size kept trying to slide in to a space about half my size all during the first band…I moved over but there was still not room and she kept pushing…I thought she was going to pick my pocket or something.  Finally she asked the woman next to me to move over while her husband was away so she could get in, taking hubby’s place.  The woman said no, the spot was her husband’s, and finally the woman gave up.  I would have let her in, she was just too big!  But my wallet was ok.  It distracted me from the first band though.

Ozomatli accurately describe their music as “a notorious urban-Latino-and-beyond collision of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga.”  They have been working with rappers Chali 2Na (from Jurassic 5) and Kanetic Source.  The songs they were in weren’t just jams with raps over them (except maybe one or two).  They were worked out so the raps fit the music to a “T” even to the point of having the whole band do synchronized dance steps with them which was kinda fun.  I was waiting for them to break out the electric glide or the macarena (not really).

The band, together for fourteen years, seems to be at the top of their game and having fun while still managing to be political.  I’ll check out their politics a bit more when Ozo come to the Grammy Museum in LA on March 24th.  I only tell you cuz I just got my two tix for this 200 seat place—if you can, hustle over to ticketmaster and get ’em — they are only ten bucks (plus all of tixmaster’s fees upon fees).  They’ll be talking, not playing though.

But back to the playing, they covered all the styles they claim to and then some, even having some oud-ish sounding instrument at the forefront for one song.  It was really a family affair, with about 1000 family members present and rocking.  A couple of band members’ kids and partners even took to the stage at the end, when opening band Upground joined them too.  The whole thing ended with Ozomatli setting up a second-line style marching band and wandering around the HOB floor for about half an hour.  I talked about the Ninja Academy’s getting revenge for classical Japanese music lessons….I am sure this was the revenge of the kids who had to play in the high school marching band…who knows, with a band like that in HS maybe I would not have dropped out (don’t worry, I went back and now can’t get out…I’m a college prof)!

Upground was also excellent in their own right, rocking the place with their Latin infused rock and reggae sound.  Check them out too!

Sorry Ozo heads (is that the right term?) for not knowing the songs — I always listen but seldom learn titles. I’d have had more to say on the music if I was able to write a little sooner after the concert while stuff was fresh, but work impinged.

As always, if you made it this far, give rreplay and the rest of way music a listen, especially my “The Revolution will not be on the Internet” which is going on an album with Chumbawamba and John and Yoko among others!


Eric Parker from rreplay has a new Boston thing going…check out the music at his blog, theriex.

Went to hear Ozomatli and an East LA band that I had not heard of before, Upground.  Both were great.  Ozomatli was one of the best live gigs I’ve ever heard.  More later, once I get done with some of my real job.