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Event Review: Ozomatli Crew
Live at the Santa Barbara Coach House - Friday April 9th, 2004
By Cowboy Surfer, Seedless Records
(more articles from this author)
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OK. I should have known something was up when I pulled up to the Coach House in Santa Barbara with my girlfriend Stephanie. Two uniformed motorcycle patrols pulled a U-turn and followed me for about a mile as I vainly tried to find a parking spot at the packed Ozomatli show on Friday night.

Fortunately, the sharks found other bait to attack for the moment. Now I had heard about Ozomatli's brush with the law in Austin recently at the famous SXSW festival. Something lame about the police waiting to bust them as they trotted out of the nightclub after their stage show ending with their traditional Pied Piper procession into the streets. That violated the noise laws apparently.

Now this is their typical show, which they do nearly every chance they get. They stir the crowd up into a frenzy, then joyously lead them into the night like only Ozo can. They are after all a Grammy award-winning band! And by the end of this night, the police would also have an impact on this show as well. Apparently, word gets around.

But that is the funny thing about this whole situation. Ozomatli plays a lively, diverse set that includes hip hop flavors, salsa, jaracho, slow beats that include a masterful DJ from Oxnard, CA, a pumping rhythm section with Wil-Dog on bass, ex Wallflowers drummer Mario Caliri and the power packing Raul Pacheco on guitar and sotto voce, stellar percussionists Justin "Nino" Poree (a real crowd pleaser) and Jiro Yamaguchi, who seemingly played everything in sight, a slamming three piece horn section, including saxophonist Ulises Bella, a trombonist and the sweet tonsiled lead vocalist/trumpet player Asdru Sierra, who opened the show with some very smooth crooning en espanol. There were at least 10 people onstage at the show, probably some I could not see.

With all this seemingly chaotic activity going on, the band seemed to pull it all together in a perfect symbiosis, kind of like a well oiled industrial machine with 10 different parts all going off at the same time to result in one positive action. And that is my point. Throughout the entire 2-hour show, the band commanded a stage presence that really kept the audience into their performance. The capacity filled room was jumping, clapping, dancing and chanting throughout the night. At one point, the band broke into some middle eastern vibe that entranced the audience. At another point, you would have heard the equivalent of latin polka music, then a turn and meet the person next to you break followed by a chant of "You say OZO, we say MATLI" and back to the next groove without missing a beat.

The band's message is a positive one, based on diversity, respect and love. Everyone in the audience could feel it. There were no violent or bad vibes going on, so it was puzzling to me why, at the end of their performance when the traditional procession was about to occur, about 10 Santa Barbara police units and patrols busted the party and ended the show before it could end properly OZO style.

As Nino's shirt said, "Free the OZO 3." And to add to that thought, "free the OZO 10 to perform their show without interference or censorship based on misconceptions." After all, it's not like they're the Ozomatli Crue or anything. Just plain OZO-MATLI! Go see the show, but watch out for the man!

Ozomatli will release their first full-length studio album in three years, Street Signs, June 22nd, for Concord Records, which features guest appearances by the band's original MC Chali 2na (now of Jurassic 5), veteran Moroccan sintir master Hassan Hakmoun, who's joined by the acclaimed French-Jewish gypsy violinsts Les Yeux Noir and The Prague Symphony (yes, the Prague Symphony). The recording also features label mate and legendary Latin jazz and salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri and Los Lobos singer-guitarist David Hidalgo.

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