Ten years ago a loosely knit group of friends started hanging out on a regular basis at a local community center in East L.A. They had no money (and still don’t by any reckoning), but they cared about their community, and counted on it for inspiration and support. The cultural diversity of East L.A. is what moved them to make their music, and through their songs, they are immortalized in the annals of the area’s history.
Like the multi-ethnic urban sprawl of L.A., Ozomatli’s music lacks clear-cut boundaries. On the one hand, they’ve always had an effective arsenal of standard Latin tunes sung in Spanish that can keep your feet moving all night: Songs like “Como Ves,” which builds into a frenzy of percussion and vocal chants or “Pa Lante,” a Cumbia-based composition off their second album, “Embrace the Chaos” are fire-starters that instantly ignite any audience.
But, in addition to numbers rooted in familiar crowd-pleasers, Ozomatli has a lot of more thought-provoking songs. In the course of their decade together, the band has created an entirely new and original category of music. Think “funky neo-Latin urban-soul rap-hop” inspired by the world they live in.
The dynamic of any concert is the same — people gather to enjoy the music and meet like-minded people. But because of Ozomatli’s fresh and innovative blend of sounds and lyrics, they also attract other music professionals. That’s how they met Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) and Cut Chemist, who are featured on their first album.
Despite the band’s love of hip-hop, there is no gangsta-style posing or big bling bling in this act. In fact, the band makes regular appearances at benefits for good causes. Striking strawberry farmers? They’re there. Victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami? Yep, they’re there too. Just listen to the lyrics for songs like “Who’s to Blame?” or “(Who Discovered) America?” and you’ll get a pretty good idea of where the band stands politically.
Any time disaster strikes the community, Ozomatli will be there balancing the negative ju-ju with their own positive vibe. But it isn’t all a love parade. At last year’s South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Tx., two band members and their manager ended up in jail after a postconcert scuffle. (They were eventually cleared of the charges.)
But the real news flash is that Ozomatli have been nominated for yet another Grammy in the Latin Rock/Alternative category. They won their first Grammy in 2001 for their album “Embrace the Chaos,” and in Japan we’ll know tomorrow if they have walked away with another.
One thing is certain, though: The Ozomatli shows in Japan — at the Club Quattros in Tokyo and Osaka — are not to be missed. Just make sure to dress for mid-summer — you are going to sweat up a storm in this session lead by 10 personal trainers.
Ten musicians united as one
Speaking on phone from L.A., founding member Justin “El Nino” Poree, who plays percussion and does rap vocals, spoke about the band embraces chaos and creates music out of it:
“Embracing the chaos describes us as a band — 10 different people working it out and trying to get along on a daily basis. Sometimes the only way to do that is to embrace the chaos,” Poree said.
“[The way we write songs is] Someone will wander into rehearsal and start playing a riff or groove or bass line that they’ve been working on. You know it’s going to become a song if someone else joins in.
“With 10 people randomly contributing to the process, that first idea is never what you end up with. It can be frustrating at first, but that’s how most of our best songs are written.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.