Here come the people's music again!

Ozomatli Ever since Latin revelers, Ozomatli, hit the scene in '98 with their seminal first album, it seems that nothing but praise has poured out of the mouths of critics and concert-goers.

One reason for the acclaim is their unclassifiable sound. The music press (myself included) have found themselves stumped when attempting to label this L.A. collective. Swinging from spicy, brassy salsa and meringue to slick hip-hop, they defy comparison or category by also adding elements of jazz, electronica and worldbeat.

Ozomatli Their sense of purpose is another praiseworthy element of the band. With a reputation of conscious activism, the band spends a portion of their time and effort assisting different causes. Whether it's opposing the incarceration of Mumia Abu Jamaal or standing up for the rights of farm workers or female prisoners, Ozomatli speak out at rallies, on their website and in their politically-charged lyrics.

Their live performance is definitely something to shout about. Taking their name from the Aztec god of dance, Ozomatli's concerts are vigorous, sweaty worship services to this kinetic deity. The energy this 7-piece produces becomes contagious, leaving no one unmoved - physically or spiritually. Not constricted to the stage, Ozomatli hits you from all angles, playing in the audience, behind the crowd, in the parking lot, you name it. Such performances have won them fans in the United States, Europe, Mexico, Australia and of course, Japan.

Ozomatli Their March shows in Tokyo and Osaka are quickly approaching, so we at Smash thought a few words with them would be in order. We caught up with tenor saxophonist, Ulises Bella, in Holland on the last leg of their European tour.

"We call our music the People's music", said Bella when asked how they label their sound. "Some have tossed around 'Roots' music or 'multicultural', but the 'People's' music…we are comfortable with that". And well they should be. With the band's mixed African, Latin and Asian heritages, their music really is a world party. This multi-ethnic approach has awarded them a grammy nomination, as well as an opportunity to work with the likes of Los Lobos, De La Soul, Common and the legendary, Carlos Santana."I'd love to play with Santana again," says Bella, "that was an amazing experience." Although they have won praise from Santana, no collaborative songs have been written ミ yet.

Ozomatli When asked about their writing process, Bella says it is a team effort. "[Our songs] are written by everybody," he says. "Maybe sometimes one guy comes in with a bunch of ideas, but we all do it". Their music seems built on a foundation of teamwork and friendship. On their website, bassist and founder, Wil-dog says that their arrangement is "like being married to a group". The warmth that is seen between these guys when playing live shows it is no marriage of convenience. They are brothers, working together for the music, for the cause, and of course, for the fun.

"Sure, we're like a family," says Bella, when asked about the group's dynamic. "We have fun, we get into fights, it's like that". Ozomatli is the core group, the "nuclear" family, if you will, but most members do their own things as well, which helps the group grow, says Bella. "We all sit in with other bands or with our friends," he says "it keeps us fresh". When asked about the exit of hip-hop group Jurrasic 5's members Cut Chemist and Chali2na from Ozo's second album, Bella stated: "They will always be part of the band." Rightly so. In actuality, Cut is does play on "Embrace the Chaos" alongside DJ Spinobi.

Ozomatli Due to constant touring, the guys in Ozo have had little time to enter the studio or join a protest. But that doesn't mean they are idle. They work on new material as they play the circuit, re-working old numbers while tending to side projects. Their website is updated regularly with an excellent activism section, providing information on the various causes they support. When asked about any recent rallies or benefits of late, Bella spoke of one back in L.A. "A friend of ours' house burned down, so we played a small benefit for him," he says, "it was kind of a neighborhood thing."

So is L.A. still home for these Latin rockers? "Definitely," says Bella. Are they looking forward to bringing their sound back to Japan? "Of course! We have had a blast in Japan. The crowds are great".

So with their horns, their drums, their voices and rhymes, one of the best live bands on the planet will soon be in our neck of the woods. Don't miss this one. A vibe like this descends on Tokyo and Osaka only once each this year.

interviewed by jinki and photos by hanasan

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