Ozomatli: activism with a Latin groove

May 15, 2002


Embrace the Chaos
Interscope Records


Ozomatli's new album, Embrace the Chaos, has a different feel to the Los Angeles-based band's self-titled debut album. But it is still full of the joy of life and continues to utilise music as a tool for social change.

Ozomatli's music is infectiously uplifting. Ozomatli is a seven-piece, multiracial band, made up of black, Chicano, Cuban, Japanese and Filipino members — with a style as versatile as it is unique.

They go from moody to hyped-up tempo, from hip hop to Cumbia to Afro-Latin in influence, as easily as they go from English to Spanish in language. Whatever the style, there's always plenty of percussion and catchy choruses.

Embrace the Chaos is obviously influenced by the group's performance in front of 12,000 protesters at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The LAPD pulled the plug on them, which you can hear on the title track. Definitely check out "Dos Cosas Ciertas" and turn up the volume for the ridiculously hip "Vocal Artillery".

Ozomatli's Raul Tachero spoke to Green Left Weekly during the band's Australian tour in March.

"We're not dogmatic", he said, "we're fun-loving men, but we are motivated and inspired by people who put human dignity first. We are like a metaphor in some ways, because the 10 of us are from all different backgrounds and have different experiences, but we work together. There is an interconnectedness, even though we also have different levels of political commitment and activity."

Tachero said that in the US after September 11 there have been large protests against the war in Afghanistan, but there is also a climate of fear. He felt that this is starting to change though, with a more visible peace movement. The momentum will grow, but it was still very difficult to get mainstream media attention for anti-war activity.

The April 5 edition of the US Socialist Worker noted that, "It seems like every time you go to a meeting to organise a protest here in southern California, someone says, 'We should see if we can get Ozomatli to play!'. And for good reason. Not only does this band really get the crowd going, but their music ties in perfectly with the activist culture of the region."

An important area of political activity in which Ozomatli members are involved is the struggle against the marginalisation of Chicano/Mexican people in the US, Tachero told GLW. Exploitation was rife for non-white Americans: "Your labour is worth something [to the employers] but your person is not".

Tachero explained that when the US capitalists need labour, the doors are opened and the employment opportunities are there, but as soon as the economy goes bad, the doors are closed to workers from south of the border.

Ozomatli has been nominated for three American Latin Media Arts Awards, up against big name artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Shakira. The band has been nominated for best "breakthrough artist" and "outstanding Latin group". Embrace the Chaos has been nominated for Latin album of the year.

[Visit <http://www.ozomatli.com>.]

From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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