Q&A with OZOMATLI – Cultural Ambassadors, First Musical Act at a TED Conference, And All Around Incredible Grammy Winning Band.
Posted On 06 Nov 2014
Tag: All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, Artist Interview, Asdru Sierra, Brighter, Burn It Down, Carlos Santana, Cultural Ambassadors, Dave Stewart, Dragonfly, Embrace The Chaos, Eurythmics, Grammy, Latin, Matthew Whittington, New York Pops, Nicole DeRosa, North African, Omar Moktar Bombino, Only Love, Opium Den, Ozo, Ozokidz, Ozomatli, Ozomatli Presents Ozokidz, Perez Prado, Place In The Sun, Raul Pacheco, Robert Carranza, Santana, Street Signs, TED Conference, The Band, The Viper Room, U.S. State Department, Uli Bella, Ulises Bella, Vanguard Records, WAX LTD., Xandy Barry
PLACE IN THE SUN, the eighth album by multi-genre, multi-cultural Grammy winning band Ozomatli, takes the band’s street-party consciousness to new heights of eclecticism. Produced by the band and long-time friend, world renowned engineer Robert Carranza and featuring collaborations with the legendary Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart and Xandy Barry of WAX LTD, PLACE IN THE SUN is just the latest proof of the band’s relentless vitality. Shifting gears from electro-cumbia to garage rock, hip-hop, and Pérez Prado mambo, Ozomatli infuses a DJ party mix with dynamic live band chops and attitude.
Bursting onto the L.A. stage with their first eponymously titled album in June 1998, Ozomatli capitalized on being the talk of the live music scene, particularly their show-stopping gigs at venues such as Dragonfly, Opium Den and The Viper Room. By 1999, they were touring with Carlos Santana and soon won a Grammy for 2001’s EMBRACE THE CHAOS and a Latin Grammy for 2004’s STREET SIGNS. After nearly twenty years together, having toured internationally, collaborated with the Boston and New York Pops orchestras, and served as Cultural Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department, Ozo’s more recent accomplishments have ranged from being the first band to be asked to give a musical talk at the TED Conference to their most recent album OZOMATLI PRESENTS OZOKIDZ.
When they were formed, Ozomatli symbolized an emerging, multicultural Los Angeles. Over the years Ozomatli has become the ultimate jam band, pulling together the strands of creativity into a unique rhythmic machine. And learning to live together, like the city they represent, has made their music even stronger. “We’ve worked hard to create a space for ourselves, our own place in the sun, so to speak,” said guitarist and composer Raúl Pacheco. “We’re coming out with this new record to remind people that we still care about making new music.”
A recurring theme of PLACE IN THE SUN is how the band has learned to deal with life’s responsibilities, struggles, and raising a modern family. (Asdru) Sierra says “Brighter” was written to convey the importance of showing his kids the way through rough patches in life. In fact, the collaboration with Stewart came as a result of the two experiencing fatherhood together. “We met about 12 years ago– our kids were in the same preschool–and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Sierra and Pacheco in particular both feel strongly about balancing parenthood with the rigors of recording and being on the road. Sierra says he wrote the breezy ballad “Only Love” for his wife, who stood by him through their years of marriage. “This album is about growth, as a man, and a father,” said Sierra. “But we’re still striving for that world sound, the real touch with Latin, and hip-hop and everything else we’re doing.”
One of the album’s most powerful songs, “Burn It Down,” offers a significant clue to the band’s past, present and future. Evoking Ozo’s stubborn idealism, the song suggests that battles can be won or lost, but sometimes the best thing is to let it all go and start fresh. “The idea behind that song is that sometimes there’s a point where you just have to burn it down, let it go and move on,” said Pacheco. “The tune was inspired by North African guitarists like Omar Moktar Bombino and it’s the liveliest track on the album. The Band in a room with the record button on!”
The title track, “Place in the Sun,” is a garage-rock homage that pushed them all to think about what the band has accomplished.
“I thought, what does it really mean to create your space in this world?” Pacheco asked, and together, the band found the answer. “For us it means the work it takes, the struggle it takes and the joy we had once we got it.”
All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa had the pleasure of asking band member and multi-instrumentalist, Ulises Bella aka Uli a few questions. Check out their Q&A below.
Hi Uli! How are you? Where does this interview find you and what else is on the agenda besides our interview today?
I’m fine…Ozo is constantly working so I am grateful to still be making a living in this music industry.thankfully we have a weekend off which is usually very rare.
A heartfelt congratulations are in order, as Ozomatli is coming up to their 20th Anniversary of making music together! That’s so awesome! So, how are you guys going to celebrate?
The 20th anniversary is a super big deal for us…how many bands last ten years let alone twenty?! We’re doing it big next year with the shows, documentary, and hopefully a big orchestra show with the LA Phil.
How is the new album, Place In The Sun different than the last album?
“Our comfort level in the studio was way higher on “Place In The Sun”….everybody was having fun!”
I love the song and latest single from the album, “Tus Ojos”. How did that song come about? Did the lyrics or music come first?
The music came first on “Tus Ojos”….it started as a jam that we would do mid show then I wrote the lyrics with Raul. The words are a celebration of the cosmic feminine, Pachamama,Virgin Mary, Mother Earth,the Goddess figure…
For our readers that are not as familiar with Ozomatli, the band has a really interesting story of how you all met. Can you share that story with our readers and also how the name Ozomatli came about?
The band started out of a labor dispute during this conflict the workers took over a building they worked in and in this occupied building in downtown LA, the band was formed to help raise money to help this cause which was named the Peace and Justice Center.
Ozomatli is known for their wide array of musical styles – including, salsa, jazz, reggae, and hip hop as well as their vocal activist viewpoints. You have done a great job of bridging those two things together without it being forced. How do you strike that balance?
“I think we make it important to emphasize the dance part of message music….we take a cue from people like Bob Marley and Fela Kuti to make people move and have a great time then drop something heavy in there.”
Who is currently in your playlist? Any “guilty pleasure” songs or artists we would be surprised to find in there?
Dead Can Dance,Tito Puente, Lana Del Rey, Godflesh, some old Duran Duran, Brazilian baile funk. I listen to everything …musical elitism is weak!
I’m a big fan of Matisyahu, who you guys frequently collaborate and tour with. How did that relationship come about? How did you first meet?
We met Matis on the road in Australia…super cool cat and the dub trio his band is amazing!that tour was super fun!
Over the years, the band has been invited to play at some pretty incredible locations and ceremonies, case in point, The U.S. State Department invited Ozomatli to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a series of government sponsored international tours all around the world in places like, Asia, Africa, Tunisia, Jordan, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand etc. What was that experience like?
“Not to sound cliche, but everyone one of those trips was life changing. One point that was reoccurring in all these trips, is that we as humans have so much more in common than what is pushed on TV and that most of our differences, especially the ones that lead to war and conflict are illusionary.”
Ozomatli was the first musical talk ever given at any TED conference. What did you guys take away from that experience?
TED was a treat…personally I’d rather sit in the audience and bug out on the speakers!
Ozomatli performed in one of my favorite Drew Barrymore movies, “Never Been Kissed.” For our readers that are unfamiliar, what famous scene were you guys in? Any funny stories to share from the set?
“We’re in the part where the character played by Drew eats a pot brownie and jumps on stage with Ozo. I remember that at first the character was supposed to smoke this mega joint, so the crew was making these big Cheech and Chong splits, using oregano, but the joint didn’t burn correctly so they changed it to brownies.”
What are you most excited about for this year?
Celebrating that we are still a band and still creating awesome music!
To learn more about OZOMATLI, visit their website here .