December 21, 2001

Ozomatli Forges Ahead In Trying Times

By Francisco H. Ciriza

There is a sort of strength and wisdom that allows people to remain steadfast when others may find it easier to succumb to the pressures of life in today's world. Some demonstrate false bravado creating spectacles of themselves and the circumstances, while others face the challenges presented them and negotiate accordingly with honesty and patience acutely aware of all the dynamics involved. And still others, due to social standing or other preference are somehow allowed to sidestep responsibility or any real semblance of it and only appear to be an active part of a solution.

Most recently, we have seen musical artists performing concerts in highly secured even secret locations with handpicked audiences performing their little hearts out to generate funds that in theory are to aid those in need. Now, even stage and screen performers are off to the `frontlines' to support American and allied troops in the Middle East.

Enter Los Angeles' Latin/Hip-hop/Ska funksters Ozomatli. Born out of protests against the closure of a youth center in Los Angeles in the nineties, the band has achieved a substantial amount of success after only two major label releases supported by non-stop touring. They in no way wish to be hidden from either their fans or the ugliness of the conflicts both abroad and at home related to the war on terrorism.

The band is currently touring in support of their second and aptly titled full-length CD, Embrace the Chaos. The band stops locally for two shows, December 27th and 28th, at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

While completely willing to face controversial and difficult issues, the band is weathering perhaps some of the more trying times of their relatively young career. "It's all been [pretty tough] lately," says Ulises Bella,the group's saxophonist and backing vocalist from his hotel room. He does so in between sniffles and occasional sneezes apparently waging a mini-battle of his own against the beginnings of a cold. "I think the main thing on our minds right now is the war in Afghanistan. I think alternative solutions should be explored."

Bella and the rest of Ozomatli set themselves apart from most in a situation such as this. Rather than self-servingly contradict the masses content to solely oppose and gain attention by raising eyebrows, the members of Ozomatli offer thought and substance. "The main thing we want is for people to become informed. That's what we say at our shows. If then, people decide they want to become active, they can take part in demonstrations, campaigns, and in rallies that all support peaceful solutions. That's really what we're really all about."

While obviously confident with his and his band mates' convictions, Bella is also aware of the possibility of serious backlash. This can happen when the accepted path is abandoned for a less traveled one. "What bothers me is that if people hear you say things like that about favoring peaceful solutions and not in agreement with the war, they look at you and treat you as if you were un-American. I think that's really wrong."

While less significant in the overall scheme of things is the situation in which the band finds itself at the moment. While very popular with Latinos and younger, more accepting music fans, the band feels a bit slighted by mainstream listeners. "They haven't given us as much love as we thought we'd be getting by now," Bella says referring to a public that is for whatever reason more inclined to listen to the radio and watch MTV rather than explore the deep wonders of all available music themselves.

While in many ways opposed to the truths of today's music industry, Bella knows those truths translate into expectations that can determine the impact of his group and possibly its existence. "Record sales and all are really slow right now because of everything that's going on in the world. Unfortunately we do have to worry about things like [record] sales. There are many people in this industry that care more about sales than about he actual music. We are aware of those issues and they do mean something to us, but we're not obsessed with it. It's not our point of focus every night."

What the band does focus on is a positive attitude. These guys will not give up. Perhaps this will serve as the impetus to finally push the band over the top into major success. But for now, the band looks ahead to its immediate agenda, "We're just looking to help out this record as much as we can. We'll be out on the road off and on from now until the end of the year finishing up with a New Year's Eve show at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles," says a slightly more upbeat Bella as his voice begins to regain and emanate a confidence that comes from knowing what he and his band share some their wisdom with the rest of us.

Return to the Frontpage