Ozomatli | California | Review

Words & Images by: Annelise Poda

Ozomatli :: 03.28.12 :: The New Parish Music Hall :: Oakland, CA

Ozomatli by Annelise Poda
The New Parish Music Hall in Oakland was packed to the rafters with jubilant fans for a special Wednesday night Ozomatli show last week. Anyone familiar with the band knows that when embarking on a musical trip with Ozomatli they are in for a night of hip-shaking rhythmic jams and nonstop joking with the charismatic musicians. The New Parish is a very small venue for the band to be booked at, so excitement levels were bumped up even higher for the sold out crowd. This group is made up of some highly talented musicians that also really know how to work an audience, and their show made for a great night of laughter and dancing.

Ozomatli is known for being a multicultural musical project, and band members draw from a wealth of different influences to create their unique hybrid sound. Ozomatli grinds up and reassembles tons of different genres to create a louder-than-life end product of mashed up, jazzy horn trills, funky bass lines, Latin rhythms, hip-hop flows, reggae riffs, and straight-up rock music that all comes blaring out through their amps as vibrant and exciting songs. The jamming compositions ooze out as a sonic portrayal of the diverse atmosphere of Los Angeles, and it is no surprise that this sound attracts a wide range of fans. Live shows are the best way to experience the music of Ozomatli, as the band makes it easy to shed inhibitions and just get happily caught up in the wild celebration with everyone else in the room.

This specific show at the New Parish was surprisingly the band’s first time ever playing in Oakland. They received an exceedingly warm welcome, and the party went full tilt ahead all the way to the end of their three-hour set. Almost right from the start, the band went off on a percussive tangent with a drum circle type jam, which gradually slowed into a quiet beat when rapper Justin Porée took the opportunity to hype up the crowd and flow into the beginning lyrics to “City of Angels,” one of the band’s singles. He spat words into his mic and the horn section added their animated range of melodies over the heavy duty rhythms. Another fan favorite was the expressive “Can’t Stop,” a song with more drawn out vocals sung in harmony, and the audience lent their own singing to the chorus as well.

Ozomatli by Annelise Poda
As mentioned before, Ozomatli does a great job of engaging the audience with humorous dialogue and creative pre-song games. Dexterous trumpeter Asdrubal Sierra set up a call and response interchange between he and the crowd where fans sang back notes that came blasting out of his horn. This also gave him the chance to show off his instrumental chops, impressively blowing out chopped up trills and elongated notes. At a later point, Sierra also instigated a horse race during the song “Caballito” (little horse) and told the crowd to act like they were galloping around the room. Fans playfully obliged and took off on their hypothetical steeds to the fast paced song, and the venue was temporarily changed into an old Western movie set that with a soundtrack scored by a fast-paced mariachi band. It was great to see people cut loose and get into funny situations with each other, which really fostered a jovial atmosphere and encouraged everyone to have fun.

After listening to a few songs, it’s easy to conclude that bassist Wil-Dog Abers is the soulful glue of this band, as he brings all the different instruments together and holds it down with his spot-on bass parts. His playing often seems to blend into the background because more boisterous instruments claw their way up to the top of the mix and demand attention, but there comes a point when one realizes his solidly twisting notes are the roots of this sonic organism. He is the foundation the endless notes of the others rest upon, and without him all the guitars, horns, and everything else would ring out as dissonant sounds. At one point, his bandmates singled him out to play some funky lines he had apparently learned while watching reruns of Soul Train, and it was great to hear a really well put together bass solo. Abers subsequently shared the spotlight around, giving everyone else on stage a shot at showing off some sounds that wouldn’t normally fit within conventional song structures, and it was a great way to switch up the flow of the set.

All in all, this is a really great band to go see if you want to be immersed in an audience of really happy people grooving to the sounds of a tight, energetic band. There’s a great ambiance at Ozomatli shows as everyone comes together to celebrate music and life. The band is currently on tour, and it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if they were snaking their way through the country in a giant conga line formation.

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