By Brian F. Johnson
When you’ve already toured the world, won Grammys, been appointed Cultural Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department and are just shy of your 20th anniversary, you should probably kick back for a bit and wait for the flip of the calendar and the start of the celebration. But for Ozomatli, rest isn’t something that is even on the radar.
The Latin rock six-piece from Los Angeles has already toured Australia, completed an East Coast tour, released their seventh studio full-length, and of course, made it through their busiest time of the year, Cinco de Mayo. But according to saxophonist Ulises Bella, 2014 is just the gear-up for 2015.
“This year is all about preparing for next year, which will be our twentieth anniversary,” Bella said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “It’s crazy to think of us, or of any band, lasting 20 years. We were all kids when we started; we grew up in this band.”
That theme of growing up is all over the band’s latest album Place in the Sun, which they released in March — their first title on Vanguard Records. Throughout the album Ozomatli sings about dealing with life’s responsibilities and struggles and raising a modern family. “For us, this is about being comfortable in our own skin and being o.k,” said Bella.
He went on to explain that a few years ago the band realized that to stay vibrant, let alone to merely survive, they needed to think outside the box and start evolving as a group.
One massive part of that evolution was their cultural ambassadorship that took them as representatives of the United States around the world to places like Myanmar, Mongolia and Nepal, the last of which, Bella said, was one of the most incredible shows the band has ever played. “Every single one of those trips changed our lives, but playing something like Kathmandu in Nepal to an audience of over 10,000 people? Man! It’s not like Ozomatli is popular in Nepal — like maybe 10 people knew us, but solely from word-of-mouth it spread that a band from L.A. was playing a free show, and it was amazing,” he said.
Bella went on to explain that every step Ozomatli has taken together as a band has prepared them to take their next step and that they have finally gotten to where the music is the sole driving motivation behind everything they do.
“Before this album we did this cool kid’s album, and we’ve done video games and T.V. and movie work, and the process of doing that work definitely helped our writing process as a band. When you’re composing for a project like that you’re not the boss, the client is, and they’re the ones at the end of the day that says they like that or don’t like that, and when a client asks for something to be changed, you can’t be like, ‘That’s the way we want it,’ Bella said. “Yeah, you can pull the artist card but you’re probably not going to get called back. So it helped us on this particular album that everything we wrote we let the song be the client and let the music be the master as far as what works and what doesn’t. There’s no ego or anything. We’re a group saying ‘Let’s not put too much mayonnaise in the sandwich.’”
Despite dealing with the themes of growing up and becoming more mature, the album is still light and positive, with strong, hopeful messages. The tune “Brighter,” for example, co-written by trumpeter Asdru Sierra and Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, is a reggae-tinged track written to convey to their kids (who attend school together and caused Sierra and Stewart to meet) the importance of traveling through life’s rough patches.
The video for “Brighter” features a cameo by a guy dressed as “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski. While the song certainly embodies The Dude’s ethos of takin’ ’er easy, Bella said that it wasn’t planned and they were all shocked when they showed up for the shoot and saw the impersonator. “There was nothing subliminal or intentional, it was just fucking crazy,” he laughed.
Ozomatli will play the Left Hand Culture Jam this month. The event is a celebration of Longmont’s cultural diversity and benefits Intercambio Uniting Communities, a local non-profit dedicated to cultural integration, which provides English classes to immigrants in Boulder County and Denver.
:: Ozomatli ::
:: Left Hand Culture Jam :: June 21 ::
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