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Ozomatli brings ‘high-energy’ show to The Republik
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
Ozomatli and its multi-culti mash of jam-rock, Latin, funk, hip-hop and world music feel somehow inevitable, in a completely comfortable way. They’ve combined forces to find a sweet spot, putting members’ Latino, Spanish, Japanese, African and American heritage to work to create a party-ready mix that all kinds of people can dance to.
Nowadays, with the release of a new album of music for kids, you can comfortably say the band is a draw for the whole, global family — as long as Mom and Dad aren’t too taken aback by the occasional reference to spliffs or lovers’ spats, songs advocating gay marriage and shout-outs to the anti-war movement.
With Kawao and Ooklah the Moc
Where: The Republik, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $30-$40, $25-$35 advance
Info: groovetickets.com or 855-235-2867
Ozomatli has found a balance between representing for principle and making a living on popularity, and they’ve weathered the 17 years since their first, go-for-broke days well, creating a respectable body of work.
The band’s approach to incorporating hip-hop has become more subtle, with melodic chants filling in for the harder edge once represented by Chali 2na. Where the band might have chanted “Party people, rock the house!” on that first 1993 album, now they make dreamier references to “Elysian Persuasion.” But the members retain the essential charm that put the band on the map.
OZOMATLI has enough Hawaii connections to make band members honorary ohana.
Sax player Ulises Bella was recently married on the beach at Waimanalo, accompanied by most of his bandmates.
Guitarist Raul Pacheco, sounding relaxed and thoughtful when reached by phone in California on Monday, said he hung out with waterman Mark Cunningham during that trip, and spoke delightedly of being able to explore the island as he couldn’t when on tour, taking hikes and exploring the North Shore.
The band is on close terms with Jack Johnson, performing at Johnson’s Kokua Festival, and joining Johnson and G. Love for the song “Mudfootball” on Johnson’s benefit album, “Best of Kokua Festival.”
Ozomatli is already at work on songs for a new album, and as with their last project, “OzoKidz,” it is being recorded at Johnson’s Brushfire Studios in L.A., with producer Robert Carranza. Carranza is another link to Johnson: The producer and Pacheco are a longtime friends — since they were 14 in fact, when both played in a heavy metal cover band in East L.A.
“Our band, there’s a brotherhood there, and the people in Hawaii have that kind of brotherhood within the culture,” Pacheco said. “And so when we played, it just felt intimate.
“I think the best shows we had in Hawaii were kind of the craziest, during Halloween — because people take Halloween seriously there. … There’s something deep in Hawaii where people really go all out. It was so much fun to be a part of it that way.”
As for Johnson, Pacheco says Johnson invited the band to play at the Kokua Festival after seeing Ozomatli “go for it” at another concert.
“Our band is super high-energy, and Jack’s music … it’s a mellower approach,” Pacheco said.
“I didn’t get it until I first went to Hawaii. Once I went to Hawaii, I was like, ‘Oh! Now I get it.’ The style of music and the pace and the presentation … for me, it is very indigenous to the Islands. I think his voice naturally has this comfort.
“There was this mutual admiration that we had for one another, and then we started to see him at festivals around the world.
“And then he built those offices and studio in L.A., and Robert went to work there, and … I’m serious, there’s been months at a time that we’ve gone to that studio every day!”
Now there’s a fresh Hawaii connection: Sandwich Island Bass, a DJ/production trio based on Maui, has created a moombahton track using a sample taken from Ozomatli’s “Cumbia de los Muertos.” Ozomatli worked with the trio to give away tickets to this weekend’s shows.
THE CALIFORNIA band has recorded songs about immigration protests, gang violence — even Hurricane Katrina. It has notable achievements in its history: touring the world as U.S. cultural ambassadors from 2007 to 2009; winning a best Latin rock/alternative album Grammy for 2002′s “Embrace the Chaos”; writing music for films like “A Better Life” and video games like “Happy Feet II”; touring with comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias; and playing with the Boston Pops, New York Pops and The National Symphony.
Its latest project, “OzoKidz,” takes on new subjects: balloons, germs, photosynthesis, skateboarding. …
The album, like all of Ozomatli’s music, includes a “swirl of styles,” as the band puts it: lyrics in Spanish and English, and musical hints of dancehall, merengue, rock steady, hip-hop and electronic beats.
“We were trying to make music that was enjoyable for kids but also for their parents. A few of the guys were really keen to do that,” Pacheco said, “be informative without talking down … giving some information, but also just being fun.”
And as the landscape changes for musicians, with downloading and streaming programs making it tougher to get paid for recorded music, Pacheco said the band was looking for new avenues to find income, too.
“They call it diversifying,” Pacheco said. “You know, technology has really affected musicians. There’ve been positive effects and there have been some really devastating effects. (Record label) budgets before, you could live off that while you made a record. You can’t do that now. There’s more stuff that you can probably have access to, but you have to compete with that access.
“We’ve chosen to evolve. We’ve had to adapt to Facebook and Twitter. We have our own app now. … We’re lucky that we’re a live band and we can still survive by playing shows. … But even that shifts. Because you know, we’re getting older. We’re not a bunch of 20-year-olds.
“And it is challenging. But we’re still doing it, and for the most part, happy while we’re doing it. Because it’s an honor to get to do this for a living.”
NEW MUSIC will be on the set list when Ozomatli takes the stage at The Republik. One song that’s likely to show up on the band’s next album was written by singer-trumpet player Asdru Sierra with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics — and Pacheco says it has a “poppy reggae” sound that is close to Hawaiian-style reggae.
Pacheco said he’s written a song inspired by Tuareg guitarist Omara Moctar of the group Bombino, who makes “funky, North African-like, James Brown African rock.”
The band is “pretty set” on getting a new album out by next summer, Pacheco said.
“What I want to do is write more,” he said. “Maybe one of us will write one that will really blow everyone away.”
One of Pacheco’s most recent projects was recording music for the soundtrack of “Mojado,” a short film that sympathetically portrays a young father’s ill-fated attempt to cross into the U.S.
“The thing about it for me that was great was (the director) didn’t want traditional Mexican music,” Pacheco said. “Because for me and as a band, we often get pigeonholed as to what we’re capable of doing.
“Sometimes you need to tap into what people know you for, because that’s why people come to hear you play. And in the other sense, as an artist … you want to have new experiences with your work.
“Every group of recordings, we’ve gone to different places. A hip-hop sound that we might have made on the first record would have sounded different on the last record. Part of it is technology, part of it is things you’re into, part of it is different producers. There are so many factors.
“Some people get disappointed by that; some people like it. Some people only know us from our latest record; some only know us from our records from the past. So all you can do really as a musician as an artist, you know, is try to tap into all of it.
“Whenever we make music for whatever project, whether it’s individuals doing things, or whether it’s as Ozomatli, whether we’re making kids’ music, whether we’re making music for video games or TV pilots, movie scenes, there has to be a standard of it so that we — we get asked to come and play again,” Pacheco said. “That’s key in everything we do.
“You know, we’re going to go play in Honolulu and our goal is that when we go and show up at that club, we’re going to put a banging show together, so that people really, really want to come see us again.”