Ozomatli has a new CD out -- "Ozomatli Live" -- a DVD, and will be making an appearance on NBC's "Crossing Jordan," 9 p.m. Monday on KHNL.

‘Ozo’ finds
rhythm in chaos

The band blends salsa and hip-hop flavors

Jason Genegabus


With local opening act Microscopic Syllables
: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $20
Call: 526-4400

THE WAR in Iraq had been under way for almost three weeks when Ozomatli percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi picked up the phone last Monday afternoon in Los Angeles, where the band had just taken a break from pre-production of their next album. It was a nice day out, he said, but the situation in the Middle East continued to cast an ominous shadow over their everyday lives.

"It's definitely a crazy time we live in," said Yamaguchi of the world's current state of affairs. "We don't agree as a band with a lot of what's going on in the world.

"We don't support this war -- we don't think the right solution to world problems is to bomb people. It's not right."

Ozomatli's self-described activism among its members is a well-known trait of the band. "It's definitely a part of our identity," Yamaguchi confirmed. "The band started out of political conflict, and we've always played benefits and done different gigs for different causes."

WHEN THE Democratic National Convention rolled into Los Angeles in 2000, the guys had already been playing together for a while as "15 people who were just jamming, and it eventually became what is now Ozomatli," according to Yamaguchi. A diverse group of musicians with black, Chicano, Cuban, Japanese, Jewish and Filipino influences, Ozomatli is known for its multicultural flavor that seamlessly mixes hip-hop and drum-n-bass with Latin salsa stylings and Mexican pachanga. The DNC show, performed on the streets near the convention center in downtown L.A. amid a crowd of protesters, ended in a hail of rubber bullets when the LAPD decided to stop the concert after just one song.

"When we were there, we were given a lot of energy from the people who were there to protest, how they felt about our involvement in the protests," said tenor saxophone player Ulises Bella. "It was really inspiring. ... That's why we named the album 'Embrace the Chaos,' accepting all the (messed-up) things of the world but wanting to change them."

After "Embrace the Chaos" was released -- ironically enough, on Sept. 11, 2001 -- Ozomatli was dealt an agonizing blow. Interscope Records, the band's label, had decided to drop them shortly after the album appeared in stores. "Basically, they didn't work it at all," said Yamaguchi, still sounding a little bitter over the whole situation. "We kind of fell through the cracks there. ... That record didn't necessarily fit into the machine of how things get promoted, you know?"

Ozomatli logo

SINCE THEN, Ozomatli has concentrated on getting themselves out in front of their fans, traveling almost nonstop for the past 18 months in support of the album. The band has also appeared in television shows like "Sex and the City," "Moesha," "The X-Files" and Fox Sports Net's "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." (Ozomatli also makes an appearance this Monday night on NBC's "Crossing Jordan" at 9 p.m. on KHNL.) They were also presented with a Grammy Award in 2002 for "Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album."

The band has also released a new live CD, "Ozomatli Live," which was recorded during a performance at the Expression Center for New Media in Emeryville, Calif. That and a concurrent DVD release are available online at the band's Web site at

"That was a lot of fun," Yamaguchi said of the taping that took place last August. For people who haven't heard of the group, this CD "would give a general idea" of what to expect at an Ozomatli show. The good feelings about the live album also extend to management at the new label. The band's signing with Concorde happened "about a month ago," according to Yamaguchi. "They are a true indie," he added. "They trust their artists."

When Ozomatli arrives in Honolulu next week for Tuesday's show at Pipeline Cafe, don't expect the guys to get on a soapbox and preach to the crowd the entire night. Remember, the band takes their name from the ancient Aztec god of dance, and Yamaguchi assures this writer that fans will have plenty of opportunity to do just that.

"If you come to an Ozo show, it's not necessarily about preaching and trying to convert people," he said. "A lot of it's about letting go and having a good time as well. ... We definitely have noticed a feeling that people need to let go and release."

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