Ozomatli Seeks To Inspire Both Mind And Body With Eclectic Repertoire

First semester’s Colgate Activities Board (CAB) music series comes to a close on Friday when reputed Latin hip-hop performers, Ozomatli, play a show in the Hall of Presidents. Fresh off the release of their first full-length album in three years and a recent appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly, Ozomatli (or Ozo as they are known to their fans), is highly anticipated on campus, currently being touted as “the biggest show Colgate has seen in years” in CAB advertisements. This kind of hype has come to be routine for the eleven-piece outfit over the last nine years, in which they have grown from a rag-tag coalition of impromptu performers to Grammy winners. The group formed in 1995, when the founding members, who were in a variety of different bands in the L.A. area spontaneously came together to perform a fundraising show for the local Peace and Justice Center. They all agreed that something special had emerged, and soon thereafter began to play club dates, eventually developing a strong local following. Word-of-mouth spread about what many considered to be an invigorating young band with a fresh, new sound and eventually major record labels came calling. Tenor saxophonist Ulises Bella recalls, “This band did not start, at all, to get a record deal. It started out of love for the music we made.”But what made Ozo so special was that they lived what many other bands only dream of, rising rapidly from being casual performers to underground sensations to major record label residents. A quick visit to www.Ozomatli.com will reveal that they pride themselves on utilizing a wide variety of musical styles and offering socially-conscious messages in their songs. The group’s name is culled from that of an Aztec God of Dance and they seek to make good on this namesake by incorporating funk, hip-hop, salsa, rock and Middle-Eastern styles in their tunes. Bella believes, “The songs venture off to a lot of different areas. That’s the beauty of Ozomatli, being able to do things really differently than everyone else.” Yet, their inclination towards the groove is only one half of Ozo’s claim to distinction. Holding strong conviction in the necessity of activism, Ozo seeks to inspire both the body and the mind simultaneously. And Ozo doesn’t just preach; they act as well. Feeling particularly inspired while at last year’s South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, members of the group were arrested for disturbing the peace when they broke into an impromptu conga line. When their second full-length album was released on September 11, 2001, the group, driven by unanimous belief in the artist’s importance within the community, continued to tour heavily even as many other artists cancelled their dates for fear of financial loss. Such commitment to making music and being a vital presence in the community has led Ozo to foster a strong, interactive relationship with its devoted fans. Their website boasts a “fan of the month” profile in addition to a section dedicated to fan photos and an activism forum engaged in by fans and group members. However, the group seeks to communicate in far more expansive ways than just mere website interaction. Continually propelled by strong conviction in their importance as artists, Ozo has begun to experiment with new sounds from regions of the world they had not previously tapped, including the Middle East. “Music is the key to every culture, the beginning of an understanding,” claims trumpet player and vocalist Asdru Sierra. “September 11 really pushed us to delve into North African and Arab music. For us, music is a language far more universal than politics.” Feeling an obligation to counteract the dehumanization that besets people of countries with whom we engage in war, Ozo has incorporated these new styles in an effort to reach out to the innocent victims of wartime mentalities and to awaken those who are perpetrators of such ignorance. These efforts are made especially clear on Ozo’s most recent release, “Street Signs,” on which they feature guest musicians that range from Moroccan sintirist Hassan Hakmoun to the French-Jewish gypsy violinists Les Yeux Noir to the Prague Symphony to legendary Latin jazz and salsa pianist, Eddie Palmieri. It is obvious that Ozo is a big band with even bigger ambition. Hype fits quite adequately with this group. It will be interesting when they crash campus Friday with their whirlwind of culture, activism and celebration. Go out and see what all the noise is about. Tickets are on sale all week at the COOP. $6 with Colgate ID. $4 with ID to drink.