By Andrew Gilhooley / 411
The eleventh day of the month in the ancient Aztec calendar is Ozomatli, the day of the monkey, overseen by the god Xochipili, the Flower Prince. Ozomatli is traditionally a day of feasting, dancing music and creation, a good day for lightheartedness, a bad day for seriousness. Los Angeles based band Ozomatli captures all of this fun and excitement in its sound, and you can join in the celebration this Saturday when the band visits the Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz.
Ozomatli was formed in 1995 by bassist Wil-Dog Abers and guitarist and lead vocalist Raul “El Bully” Pacheco. The band started out playing at community benefit events, but eventually got a regular Thursday night gig at the Opium Den club in Hollywood. Ozomatli quickly gained a local reputation for its high energy music, which combined salsa and merengue with reggae, funk, hip-hop and rap. Guitars, bass and drums combined with horns, ethnic percussion and scratching turntables to cook up a unique sound that had club patrons filling the dancefloor. It became a feature of the shows for the members of Ozomatli to unplug their instruments and lead the audience in a conga-line out into the street, where they would hold up traffic playing Latin percussion and brass versions of any song that came to mind. Eventually, the band had to move to a larger club, the Dragonfly, to accommodate the ever-increasing crowds that were flocking to see the show.
In 1997, Ozomatli released an EP titled “Ya Llego,” which was followed by a self-titled debut album in 1998. It was in July of 2000, however, that everything stepped up a notch for the band, at an event that inspired Ozomatli’s second album. The Democratic National Convention was in downtown Los Angeles and a crowd had gathered to protest. Ozomatli was the band on-site to entertain the crowd, and the police pulled the plug after only one song. Tenor saxophonist Ulises Bella recalls the event: “The DNC really impacted us. When we were there, we were given a lot of energy from the people who were there to protest, how they felt about our involvement in the protests. The negative part about it was how this group of people was just shut down. It was right at the moment when Clinton was giving his speech about how great America was. The irony of it, the cynicism of it, all of it influenced us. That’s why we called the album Embrace the Chaos.”
“Embrace the Chaos,” released in 2001, won a Grammy award for best Latin rock/alternative album and won the band national recognition. Since then, Ozomatli has toured in Japan, Europe, Cuba, Australia and Mexico, and was part of this fall’s Nokia Unwired tour with Hoobastank and the All-American Rejects. Ozomatli is the only Spanish-speaking, non-Anglo, non-rock band associated with the Nokia brand, and the company plans to release over 1.5 million cell phones with an Ozomatli ring-tone in the near future.
Carlos Santana once described Ozomatli as “the future of music.” With a new album in the pipeline for 2004, the future is certainly looking bright for the band. Go see the show this Saturday, and don’t forget your dancing shoes.
First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, December 11, 2003
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