MACUILXOCHITL: Five Flower,” the Aztec god of music and dance
By Francisco H. Ciriza
“Were pretty much going to be on the road for a while,” Jiro Yamaguchi, Ozomatli’s long time percussionist said before he and his mates began what has already proved to be one of the groups most impressive and successful outings in its career. Planned to coincide with the release of it’s latest cd release, Street Signs, on Concord Records one of the tour’s earliest stops brought the Los Angeles band to the grandstand at this year’s San Diego County Fair.
A somewhat atypical audience gathered for the Wednesday evening concert, which was free with paid admission to the fair itself with preferred seating available at an additional cost. Aside from some exclusive shows by select artists, most of the fair’s concerts are free.
A relatively young crowd, most in their late teens to mid thirties, was on hand to witness Ozomatli deliver its eclectic set of songs that came off all three of its cd’s. It was quite evident the group has broken down some major barriers in terms of demographics. The show’s fans represented a variety of ethnic and cultural groups, perhaps more so than even the most recent appearances by the group. What an interesting if not uplifting feeling it was watching such a diverse group of fans enjoy the band’s show that featured one the group’s newest members, MC Jabu, who has easily transitioned into the role of front man as he and percussionist, Justin Poree, traded raps on the groups hip-hop/rap heavy songs such as the aforementioned “Saturday Night” and “Street Signs” and even on older numbers from the band’s earlier work such as “O Le Le” off the group’s self-titled debut.
As always, veteran leader, Asdru Sierra, took the group through the band’s Spanish-lyric songs including old favorites “Eva” and “Cumbia de los Muertos,” as well as “America” and “Dejame en Paz” from their latest effort. Notable was the group’s touching dedication of “Cuando Canto,” another new song, to a local fan. Emotions spilled over as the beautiful tune took a grip on the crowd and the fan’s family and friends embraced and danced.
A fact not lost on keen observers and dedicated followers of the group was the reappearance of former drummer Mario Calire. Although a series of capable and even talented drummers filled in over the past three years, none ever established any stability to compliment the ever present thumping bass of group founder Wil-Dog Abers who’s playing on this night was, as always, essentially impeccable.
The groups horn section of sax man, Ulises Bella (also keyboardist) and trombonist/dancer Shef provided not only the bright and lively blasts of life from their instruments, but also some pretty swift dance moves. Perhaps not in the same league as some of the contemporaries, the two obviously enjoyed themselves much to the crowd’s delight and approval.
If any single player seemed to outdo his band mates on this night, it had to have been guitarist Raul Pacheco who easily switched from his Fender Telelcaster to a traditional Mexican riquinto performing as deftly on each and blowing away the crowd with a smooth yet energetic style. The diminutive Pacheco grew into a giant each time his turn came to solo as he demonstrated an affinity for his instrument and it’s role in Ozo’s music all the while playing in a manner completely modest and respectful of the rest of the group. His chops are without question, top-shelf quality and his team-first attitude, unsurpassed among lead guitarists.
Ozomatli showed its shrewdness at the fair’s concert by playing to its audience, obviously comprising a balanced set list of songs rich with hip-hop elements and Latin rhythms. The band has matured both in its recording efforts and its live delivery. It looks as if this just may be the band’s chance to finally make the last step toward the big time. House of Blues and Coors Light have just signed Ozomatli to national tour with Kinky and Plastilina Mosh. The tour will be in San Diego at 4th & B on August 8, 2004.
This past Wednesday’s concert was not the only evidence of Ozomatli’s knack for catering to its listeners. Earlier last week, the band appeared on the Telemundo’s well-known Spanish language variety show, Cotorreando, performing “Te Estoy Buscando”, a sweet and endearing song of an endless search sung in Spanish from their new disc. Last Thursday evening, in another coup, this time with Conan O’Brien’s on his NBC show, Late Night, the group performed, “Saturday Night” a self-proclaimed revolutionary hip-hop party anthem sung in English on the show which has become a hit although it appears after the Tonight Show at 12:35 a.m.