In their eighteen years together as a band, celebrated Los Angeles culture-mashers Ozomatli have gone from hometown heroes to being named U.S. State Department Cultural Ambassadors.
Ozomatli has always juggled two key identities: they are the voice of their city and they are citizens of the world.
Their music – a notorious urban-Latino-and-beyond collision of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LAR&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga – has long followed a key mantra: it will take you around the world by taking you around L.A.
Originally formed to play at a Los Angeles labor protest, Ozomatli spent their early days participating in everything from earthquake prep “hip hop ghetto plays” at inner-city elementary schools to community activist events, protests, and city fundraisers. Since then, they have been synonymous with their city: their music has been taken up by MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, they recorded the travelogue “City of Angels” as a new urban anthem, and they were featured as part of the prominent L.A. figures imaging campaign “We Are 4 L.A.” on NBC-TV. Ozomatli also have the distinction of headlining the Hollywood Bowl three times, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. In recognition of their efforts, the City of Los Angeles has officially declared every April 23rd in perpetuity as “Ozomatli Day”.
On the national stage, the band was recognized for their service, not just to Los Angeles, but as global activists, receiving the National Council of LA Raza’s Humanitarian Award, and performing twice for President Barack Obama.
“This band could not have happened anywhere else but L.A.,” saxophonist and clarinetist Ulises Bella has said. “Man, the tension of it, the multiculturalism of it. L.A. is like, we’re bonded by bridges.”
Ozomatli is also a product of the city’s grassroots political scene. Proudly born as a multi-racial crew in post-uprising 90s Los Angeles, the band has built a formidable reputation over five full-length studio albums as well as a relentless touring schedule.
“Just being who we are and just doing what we’re doing with music at this time is very political,” says bassist Wil-Dog Abers. “The youth see us up there and recognize themselves. So in a playful, party-type of way, I think it’s real easy for this band to get dangerous. We are starting to realize just how big of a voice we actually have as a band and how important it is for us to use it.
Ozomatli will be headlining Music in the Park on Friday July 19th. It takes place in San Jose’s St. James Park.