first time I ever saw Ozomatli was in 1997, when they played the Elbo

Room in San Francisco; their dozen or so members barely fit the tiny

stage. The second time I caught them was less than six months later, at

a UFW march in support of strawberry workers in Watsonville. The two

spaces couldn't have been more different — one was a quaint, hipster space

that fit barely 200, the other was a march that included thousands. Yet

Ozomatli's impact was the same, unleashing a torrent of energy as they

wound their way through each respective crowd in a samba procession

that would become a signature gesture in all their performances.

A decade later and Ozomatli's reach has only increased. Last year, they

were given a Fulbright-Hays grant through the U.S. State Department to

travel the globe as cultural ambassadors, including playing their

first-ever gig in Nepal. This year, they took to the airwaves, hosting

a weekly local L.A. music show, then a two-month morning show stint,

both for 98.7FM. And just to show the full extent of their pop cultural

penetration, they also performed on Dancing With the Stars. Can an American Idol cameo be too far behind?


all this, they've kept experimenting, and expanding their musical breadth. The

core of their sound has always been a uniquely Los Angeles blend of

Mexican, Afro-Latin and hip-hop sensibilities. As the group has

matured, they've learned to adroitly incorporate merengue, salsa,

reggae, rock, R&B, funk, bolero, cumbia and hip-hop in any given

moment. It's the embodiment of the “glocal” — the unity between a

global world where culture travels at the speed of information but with

a distinctly local sabor and spirit.


their three-night stand at the House of Blues, Ozomatli is giving their

long-time Angelino fans a special treat. For the first time since the

late '90s, the group's original rapper, Chali 2na, of Jurassic 5 fame,

is rejoining them on tour, reuniting part of the core group that helped

establish Ozomatli to begin with. (Is a Cut Chemist cameo in the works

too?) They just finished a similar three-night set at S.F.'s Fillmore,

but this trio of House of Blues' shows will be their last of 2008 and

it'll be a fine time for the local fans to help close out their busy

year in style. (Ozomatli perform tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip.) — Oliver Wang

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