Celebrating President Barack Obama's inauguration, a number of artists were invited to contribute songs for the CD/DVD, "Change Is Now: Renewing America's Promise." The commemorative compilation, which includes selections from the president-elect's pivotal speeches, features songs by Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, India.Arie, Melissa Etheridge, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, James Taylor and the innovative multicultural ensemble Ozomatli.
One of the most creative bands performing today, this Grammy-Award-winning Los Angeles-based band has spent the past 13 years pushing political and musical boundaries with an intoxicating mix of Latin rock, hip-hop and funk. Imagine War's party spirit fused with The Clash's raucous fervor.
An electrifying live act, in the last couple of years they've won over audiences across the globe. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department as official cultural ambassadors, the band has embarked on a series of government-sponsored tours to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Most recently they ignited crowds in South Africa and Madagascar.
Ozomatli, named for the Aztec god of dance, brings its multicultural groove to the MACC’s Castle Theater Friday The current membership features Jiro Yamaguchi (from left) Raul Pacheco (in red), Wil-Dog Abers, Asdru Sierra, Ulises Bella, and Justin Poree (kneeling).
"Ozomatli is part of an illustrious tradition of American cultural ambassadors, such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong," a U.S. diplomat stationed in Pretoria told a South African reporter. "With their message and music extolling racial and ethnic diversity, Ozomatli is helping to build bridges through cultural power."
"That was a great experience," says Ozomatli's Justin Poree. "We got to go to Johannesburg and Soweto, and tour the house where Nelson Mandela was born."
Besides presenting free public concerts, wherever they played the band members would offer musical workshops and master classes and visit various arts centers, youth rehabilitation centers, orphanages, and even a Palestinian refugee camp. And they often hooked up with local musicians for impromptu jam sessions.
* Ozomatli performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 day of show, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469, www.mauiarts.org.
"Every day was something new and fresh," Poree continues. "Going to places for the first time and maybe thinking that people would not be into the music, you realize how much music is involved in everybody's life. No matter what we would play, immediately people would be rocking out, even if they didn't understand the words. A lot of places people had no inhibitions."
In Nepal in 2007, the band's trip was part of a celebration of the country's newly ratified peace accord. Their historic concert in Katmandu, which was broadcast live on national television, drew more than 10,000 people. Ozomatli was the first Western band to do a concert in Nepal and the event was the country's first peaceful mass gathering that was not a protest or religious ceremony.
"Participants danced, screamed, sang, hummed, and, whatnot," a Nepalese blogger reported. "Sometime the crowd turns ugly, but there was no such problem of hurling bottles and stones on the stage today. Boys and girls were too busy in dancing to do any such things. Reporters and representatives of FMs and TVs were also dancing in the tunes of Ozomatli."
Some might be surprised that a band known for critiques of Bush administration policies and its vigilant anti-war stance was chosen to represent America abroad.
When initially invited, they jokingly asked State Department officials if they could burn an effigy of Bush on stage.
As cultural ambassadors, so far they have also played in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.
"In Aqaba in Jordan, being with the State Department, at first people had inhibitions," Poree notes. "What are they trying to push on us? But by the third song everybody was up and dancing in circles. The music broke down the barriers."
Ozomatli typically closes shows with wild sambas drawing the audience into a collective dance. Sometimes crowds get very enthusiastic.
"We were in a city in Northern India on the Pakistani border with Punjabi people and we did the samba line there and they went insane," Poree reports. "They wouldn't stop. They were doing the Bollywood dances and shouting, 'Keep going, keep going, don't stop!' It was pretty crazy."
In concert Ozomatli creates such a spirit of joyous celebration, the shows often evoke ecstatic reviews. The U.K. daily The Independent proclaimed: "Seeing Ozomatli in action, it is easy to see why they have been dubbed 'the world's best live band.' " A BBC review concluded, "There's no other group that can mix lyrical defiance, global dance beats, hip-hop attitude and pop hooks so convincingly and explosively." And a blogger after their show at the legendary Glastonbury fest concluded: "Always the best band whenever they play Glasto, probably the best live band on the planet."
Formed in L.A. in 1995, Ozomatli comprise percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi, Wil-Dog Abers on bass and vocals, Poree on percussion and vocals, Asdru Sierra on trumpet and lead vocals, Raul Pacheco on guitar and lead vocals, Ulises Bella on sax and vocals, drummer Chris Cano, and turntablist Tha Muzik Man. Founding member rapper Chali 2na is back touring with the band.
The original collective was formed as a way to raise money for a center where a labor group had been striking. The band, named after the Aztec god of dance, began playing for free in fundraisers for everything from the Zapatistas to the Battered Women's Society. Over the years they've maintained their political activism, whether it's performing at anti-globalization rallies, opposing the war in Iraq or helping with programs to stop violence on school campuses in Los Angeles.
Once hailed by Carlos Santana as, "the future of music," this multitalented, multi-ethnic band has created a unique sound without recourse to any typical formula, and captured legions of fans without help from conventional radio or MTV.
In 2005, their breakthrough CD "Streets Signs," won them a Grammy for Best Latin rock/alternative album. Deftly blending multiple genres, the album featured a captivating brew of Indian, Middle Eastern and North African sounds along with splashes of merengue, electronica and jazz. Blasting off with the swirling Arabic fusion of "Believe," they rocked the casbah assisted by Moroccan master musician Hassan Hakmoun, acclaimed French-Jewish gypsy violinsts Les Yeux Noir and the classical strings of The Prague Symphony, mixed in with a sample of Quaali music legend Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan. Rolling Stone raved: "Ozomatli is an amped-up, boundary-obliterating, socially-conscious, musically-fluent dance party."
Their most recent recording, "Don't Mess With the Dragon," finds the band stronger and funkier than ever, with 12 tracks of rock, cumbia, hip-hop, salsa, ska and more, fused into an irrepressible melange of jubilant sound. As one reviewer noted, "Ozo is, as ever, an instrumental atom bomb compared to most pop out there - the disc burns with their unique energy and soul."
While producer KC Porter, who has steered successful albums by Ricky Martin and Carlos Santana, adds a commercial pop sheen to many tracks, the band stays true to its agit-prop roots, scalding our last president's handling of Katrina on the funky "Magnolia Soul," and celebrating its city's pro-immigrant marches on "La Temperatura."
"We've been able to sustain a group that probably most people thought would never last a year," Poree concludes.
"What we do is not a standard thing, it's not pop, it's totally left field, and we've been able to play music that we like to play. What better job than to play music and make people happy."
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Wow, what a week coming up when Jimmy Buffett plays the MACC on Feb. 24 and Steve Miller rocks out on Feb. 28.
By the time he performs on Maui, Buffet will have opened his new restaurant, Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber hotel.
One of the most successful entertainers of our time (with an estimated annual income of more than $40 million), Buffett owns his own record label and a string of restaurants.
Last year he joined Little Feat on two songs on its CD "Join the Band," and also appeared on an album by his backing singer Nadirah Shakoor, "Nod to The Storyteller." Upcominghe'll release a new live acoustic CD, comprising final encore songs performed solo or with Mac McAnally.
Making his Maui debut after 40 years, Steve Miller still packs arenas thrilling a cross-generational fan base.
He's still hot live -"Backed by a tight seven-piece band, featuring longtime "partner-in-harmony" Norton Buffalo on harmonica, Miller charged through an epic set that mixed pop with blues and R&B," praised the Santa Barbara Independent - with sets that can include a 15-minute extended "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Crossroads" as an encore. Check out his latest concert DVD/CD, "Live from Chicago."
And we'll get to see Jesse Colin Young open for Miller. A Big Island coffee farmer these days, Young is celebrated as a solo artist, former leader of the Youngbloods and composer of such memorable songs as "Get Together," "Sunlight," "Ridgetop" and "Darkness Darkness.