In the hands of this Grammy-winning LA powerhouse, salsa
transcends its Latino roots
Like another band due in town within the month, Ozomatli
express the multicultural sounds and leftist politics of the
community youth centers at which they formed. In the mid-90s,
while Asian Dub Foundation were roping together the drumnbass,
Asian melodies and punk of Englands immigrant and working-class
communities, the members of Ozomatli were blending the salsa,
hip-hop, R&B and rock that surrounded them on the streets
of Los Angeles.
The parallels between the two bands new albums are striking.
ADFs Tank (see CD Reviews) shows tank tracks in what
looks to be a Middle Eastern desert, following up that image
with songs directed against the oil politics purportedly behind
the Iraq war. Ozomatlis Street Signs, meanwhile, tops
up their Latino beats for the first time with Arab melodies,
making an explicit connection to the Middle East.
In ADFs song Fortress Europe and Ozomatlis
(Who Discovered) America? each album also aims
criticism at the dominant narratives of the Wests ruling
elites. Both bands are also fervent activists in their respective
countries in support of causes like Amnesty International
and the Institute of Race Relations.
While musically divergent in terms of overall style, both
Ozomatli and ADF employ traditional instruments alongside
the sequencers, effects and turntables associated with the
dance floor. With ADF, this means that guitar, bass and drums
are complemented by the hopped up, sliced-and-diced rhythms
of drumnbass, as well as the spacey atmospherics
of dub. In Ozomatlis case, the rhythms take a more organic
shape in the form of salsa percussion and a punchy horn section,
while the dancefloor esthetics are supplied by turntablist
Both bands have acquired fervent followings in their home
continents, and have been able to bring their messages to
Japanese crowds as well. ADF in particular have struck a chord
with Japans large youth dance-culture demographic, while
Ozomatli have been perhaps a bit more confusing to listeners
here, where salsa has a more limited audience, and theyve
appealed more to a rock crowd.
Making an immediate impact in 1998 with their self-titled
debut, Ozomatli (the Aztec god of dance) include a hodgepodge
of ethnicities amid its multi-culti lineup, and sing and rap
in English and Spanish. The ten-member band has become an
LA institution, with their local club shows taking on mythic
proportions thanks to stunts like stepping off the stage and
leading the audience out the doors to create instant street
2001s Embrace the Chaos saw the band embraced by critics
and the industry as a powerful new force on the North American
music scene. Its successor, 2003s Coming Up EP, took
a Latin Grammy award, as recently did last years Street
With the salsa/hip-hop/funk template well established, Street
Signs saw Ozomatli stretching out. On top of the Arab influences
in the form of a contribution by Moroccan musician Hassan
Hakmoun, the band worked with jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri,
Jurassic 5 MCChali 2na, and even the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Ozomatli percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi told Metropolis by phone
from LA that the inclusion of Arab references was a deliberate
move taken in light of 9/11. There was a push to provide
a positive reply to the negative images of Middle Eastern
culture in the media.
The collaboration with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, however,
was not planned by the band, but came about when their arranger
was seeking a low-cost solution and decided orchestral software
wouldnt do the job. We were looking at maybe getting
a college orchestra, but he knew about the Prague orchestra.
You send them the score, and they do it over the Internet.
They were like $1,500 for a 60-piece orchestra, which in Los
Angeles would be a crazy amount of money.
All these guests wont be part of this weeks concert,
but no matterOzomatli will have no trouble creating
plenty of sound. In fact, the only problem may be squeezing
all its members onto the narrow confines of Club Quattros
Club Quattro, Mar 17. See concert
listings for details.
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