By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Crafting one of the more original and eclectic sounds to emerge from Los Angeles in recent decades, global groove juggernaut Ozomatli has been igniting dance floors with its mix of Latin, hip hop, rock and funk for over two decades. Founded in 1995 after the members met while trying to establish a workers union, Ozomatli aimed to draw on multiple aspects of the diverse culture of its hometown in creating its unique genre-busting style.
While there has been significant turnover in the group’s membership over the years, six core players — guitarist Raúl Pacheco, bassist Wil-Dog Abers, percussionists Justin Porée and Jiro Yamaguchi, trumpet player Asdrubal Sierra and saxophonist/keyboard player Ulises Bella — have been constants throughout Ozomatli’s history.
After honing it’s material and celebratory live performance that frequently featured the band marching through audiences while chanting and playing percussion instruments in California clubs, the group released it’s self-titled debut album on Almo Sounds in 1998. It was that line-up of the group with two members of rising LA hip-hop act Jurassic 5 (rapper Chali 2na and turntable wizard Cut Chemist) that helped establish Ozomatli as a powerhouse stage group.
Songs like “Cut Chemist Suite” and “Super Bowl Sundae” became fan favorites and garnered some radio and video airplay, while dates supporting iconic Latin-rock band introduced the group to a more mainstream audience. By the time Ozomatli had issued its sophomore effort Embrace the Chaos on the unfortunate release date of September 11, 2001, the rapper and DJ had moved on to focus their attention on Jurassic 5 (though Chali 2na and Cut Chemist have reunited with the band onstage and in the studio since then).
Ozomatli would continue its tradition of progressive politics with it’s outspoken opposition to the subsequent war in Iraq. The band’s line-up expanded to ten members for a time with the addition of trombonist Sheffer Bruton, drummer Mario Calire, new MC Jabu Smith-Freeman and replacement turntablist DJ Spinobi. Their follow-up album Street Signs in 2004 earned the group it’s first Grammy Award for best Latin Rock/Alternative Album as well as the band’s first Latin Grammy as they introduced more global elements to their sound. Two years later, Ozomatli became official cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department, further expanding the members’ collective horizon with a series of sponsored international tours that spanned the globe.
By 2010, Ozomatli had introduced a more stripped-down line-up and started exploring other avenues including a children’s album Ozomatli Presents Ozokidz (an effort that mirrored the group’s regular family matinee shows offering discounted admission for children), soundtrack work for film, video games and television (they served as the house band for comedian Gabriel Iglesias on his show Standup Revolution) and giving the first ever TED Talk involving a musical group in San Francisco.
For the band’s latest effort Nonstop: Mexico to Jamaica, Ozomatli has teamed with legendary reggae producers Sly and Robbie to dramatically recast a wide array of songs from Mexico with a distinctly Jamaican flavor. Material ranges from traditional standards (“Besame Mucho,” “Volver Volver”) to more modern tunes (Cafe Tacvba’s “Eres” and Selena’s “Como La Flor”) to a trio of songs that will be more familiar to non-Spanish speakers (Santana-via-Willie Bobo hit “Evil Ways,” Redbone’s smash “Come and Get Your Love” and the ’60s garage-soul favorite “Land of 1,000 Dances”). Guests on the album include American jazz/pop trumpet legend Heb Alpert, Mexican rockers Juanes, funky modern bluesman G. Love and returning rapper Chali 2na.
The group brings songs from throughout its career when Ozomatli plays two shows at the Fillmore on Saturday. In the afternoon, the band presents one of it’s family-oriented Ozokids shows (priced at an economical $10 per ticket). That night, the group plays its regular show, sharing the stage with rising young Los Angeles banda group, Banda La Maravillosa.
Saturday, January 13, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. $10 and $26.50