Thursday’s Ozomatli performance at the Alameda County Fair was the second time I’ve seen them in the past eight months, and I’m convinced I could easily attend one of their concerts every month and not tire of it.
After 14 years in the business, Ozo’s music is still unique. The bio on the band’s website describes their music as "a notorious urban-Latino-and-beyond collision of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican raga and Indian raga." While that’s an accurate literal description, it doesn’t convey the universal appeal of Ozo’s music.
Their albums are "world music" not in the traditional sense or because of the cross-cultural and international influences that shape the tracks, but because -- by an almost alchemical process – the combination of those influences and the beats, rhythms, messages and tones of the songs become something more, appealing to a range of people far beyond fans of those individual genres. Even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish or aren’t a fan of hip hop, chances are that something in Ozo’s music will still speak to you.
[bxA]The audience at an Ozomatli concert is as diverse as the band’s music. At the county fair, a mother and her 11-year-old son were in the row in front of me and I couldn’t tell which of them was more excited to see the band. At both the fair and the band’s December gigs in San Francisco, the audience ranged from the very young to retirees; from black to white to brown and everything in between; from conservative to anything but conservative. The mix makes for a wonderfully inclusive, joyful atmosphere that’s fed by the band’s performance.
The members of Ozomatli are experts at connecting with their audience during live performances. The band keeps their sets highly energetic, with most of the seven members taking center stage at some point, whether they’re on lead vocals or featured instrumentals. The sheer range of instruments that Ozo brings to the mix also makes their live shows a treat. How many bands take to the stage with three percussion kits and skillfully rotate through a line up of instruments including a jarana (Mexican guitar), trumpet, alto sax and a melodica? (By the way, it’s always highly amusing to hear the mystified whispers of "What is that?!" when the melodica comes out.)
Even with only an hour-long set at the Alameda County Fair, Ozo delighted their audience, keeping them on their feet non-stop through fan favorites including "Cumbia de los Muertos," "Saturday Night," "Chango," "Como Ves" and "After Party," and throwing in a cover of Sublime’s "April 29, 1992." In keeping with Ozo tradition, the band wrapped the night by leading the audience in a chant of "Ozomatli! Ya se fue!" ("Ozomatli is leaving!") before descending from the stage, moving into the heart of the audience without any security guards and leading their fans in an almost orgiastic sing-and-dance-along before singing and playing their way out of the venue, leaving the audience ecstatic . . . and always wanting more.
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