Ozomatli – ST


I don’t go out to see bands that often…at least not as often as I should.  So when I got invited to check out the house band:  Ozomatli at Club Dragonfly back in the late 90’s, I almost didn’t go.

Luckily it was a couple of hot girls who invited me, so I ended up going anyways.  I had no idea who Ozomatli was and, if nothing else, I figured if I’d just sat through the band I might get some action.

Well, I never got any action since the girl I was hitting on wouldn’t stop bringing up her ex-boyfriend.  But what I witnessed on stage that night was nothing short of magic.  It’s only happened a few times in my life, where you see a group perform and say to yourself “Holy Shit!  These guys are going to be big!”  I think the only other occasion was seeing the early incarnation of the Black Eyed Peas…pre-Fergie.

I even bought a CD right then and there.

Let me break Ozo’s set down for you. The house lights go down, the house DJ shuts off the music and the band begins to play.  But not on stage.  No, the band starts off on the back patio.  Every member is playing a horn, banging a drum or shaking a shaker.  The whole group winds it’s way though the club, through the crowd to the stage as they play before they all take their places and explode into their first song.  They play an amazing set of pure Los Angeles Latin sounds, then make their way back out into the crowd where they form a drum circle of sorts and keep playing for another song or two with the whole crowd going nuts around them.  What’s even better is that I’ve seen them numerous times over the past ten years and they still do the crowd thing.

That only makes me love them more.

The band takes their name from the Aztec god of dance, fire, the new harvest and music…which is fitting considering their multi racial line up and sound. Originally formed to play at a labor protest, the band took in all the sounds of Los Angeles: Hip hop, Latin, rock, reggae, funk, salsa and cumbia to name a few.

If LA needed a band as diverse as it was, Ozomatli was it.

The six core members of the band are Asdru Sierra (lead vocals, trumpet), Raul Pacheco (lead vocals, guitar, tres, jarana), Justin Poree (rap vocals,percussion), Wil-dog Abers (bass, backing vocals), Jiro Yamaguchi (tabla, percussion, backing vocals) and Ulises Bella (sax, clarinet, requinto jaracho, keyboards, backing vocals). (Thanks WIKI!) From album to album though, the lineup fluxuates from anywhere from seven to ten members, with members and elements added and subtracted like a tide.

The line up I got to see in the beginning included Jurassic 5 members Chali 2-Na and Cut Chemist…both of whom left after the first album to pursue J5 related requirements. But even with the loss or gain of musicians, the band’s tone remained the same. They still rock the house, they’re still keeping up the social commentary and they’re still working hard to bring you the funk.  And the members who leave all seem to make a return sooner or later. The band’s website says they’re touring with Chali 2-Na again this spring.

That’s saying a lot considering how many acts simply fall apart after the loss of a few members, or how often the members leaving do so under negative terms.  But once you experience the energy that Ozomatli brings to the table, it’s kind of hard to imagine it being otherwise.

The CD I bought of the drummer on stage that night was simply a taste of the full length CD to come…simply titled Ozomatli. Filled with everything I mentioned above, it’s a party soundtrack for the kind of party where everyone wants to talk politics as much as they want to dance…and find a way to do both.

Even if you don’t like latin music, or listening to lyrics in spanish, this is the kind of album that might just convert you over.


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