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.
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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