Strength In Diversity

Strength In Diversity

By Alejandro Pérez

Los Angeles-based, multi-racial, multi-piece Ozomatli embodies the diversity of that West Coast metropolis, expressing their collective creative cohesion in a sonic mezcla that shares and celebrates musical genres as if we were all neighbors holding one big international block party. Along with their Latin/hip-hop sound (which they originated long before the current "urban Latino" marketing boom) they have woven North African and Arabic influences throughout Street Signs, a direction the band members took in response to the xenophobia and scapegoating directed at Middle Easterners following the 9-11 terror attacks.

These numbers, like opener "Believe," a remixed version of "Ya Viene El Sol," and the stripped-down "Who's To Blame," a biting social critique that features a fantastic, looping hook (and the return of Chali 2na, Ozo's original MC), are among their most effective and powerful statements of the band's hope and desire for a better world. In contrast, party people tunes like the title track, with its call of "Oye, Chico! / Oye, Chica!" and saucy brass, or "Saturday Night's" heavy funk ("and if the time and day is right / the revolution will begin this Saturday night") show that political anthems can be every bit as enjoyable as pop tunes, with more substance backing them up.

Part of the strength of "Believe" - and the album in its entirety - comes from its collaborative nature. Moroccan sintir master Hassan Hakmoun and French-Jewish gypsy violinist Les Yeux Noir, joined by The Prague Symphony, accompany bandmember Asdru Sierra and MC Jabu's vocal stylizations. Here, the blend works, but on "Love and Hope" and "Te Estoy Buscando" the symphony distracts from what are otherwise solid songs.

CD Spotlight

Street Signs


(Concord Jazz)
Luckily, other guest spots avoid such pitfalls. On "Santiago," with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo (and a toned-down symphony), the band channels Carlos Santana, with whom they have previously collaborated. And anyone who's a fan of Eddie Palmieri (a Concord labelmate) will find his piano playing (and obvious composing) all over "Nadie Te Tira." Ozomatli is not quite La Perfecta II (a reference to Palmieri's modern-day assembly of his legendary band) but the horns hold their own against the salsero heavyweight.

An uplifting reaffirmation of the faith that music can change the world, the lyrical lullaby "Cuando Canto" provides the grace notes which close the album. "Cuando canto mi canción / quiero inspirar mi gente con una solución" - when I sing my song I want it to inspire my people with a solution - they intone throughout this part prayer, a near perfect coda to Street Signs. "Cuando Canto" offers hope that throughout Ozo's next chapter they'll remain true to their roots, right down to their sense of purpose which stresses social justice, not celebrity or pop star status. As long as they do, their words will continue to inspire others who work to make them a reality. •

By Alejandro Pérez


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