Ozomatli performs in Breckenridge
IF YOU GO
When: Thursday, April 7; 7:30 p.m.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 West Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: Tickets are priced at $25 advance and $30 day of show, and can be purchased at the Riverwalk Center Ticket Office, by phone at (970) 547-3100 or online at breckcreate.org.
Breckenridge Creative Arts is introducing a new outreach initiative providing social service agencies in Summit County with complimentary tickets to select BCA ticketed performances and classes. Tickets are distributed solely through nonprofit and community-based organizations, who, in turn, offer tickets to their clients whose financial and/or social situation would otherwise prohibit them from participating in the arts, said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of BreckCreate. For the Ozomatli show, BreckCreate is partnering with Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC).
“Today is kind of a special day,” Ulises “Uli” Bella said enthusiastically over the phone on Friday afternoon. “It’s the band’s birthday today.”
It was April 1, and the saxophone player was celebrating a milestone with his band mates. It’s been 21 years since the members of Ozomatli began playing together, and the group has plenty to show for it.
In just over two decades, Ozomatli has gone from L.A. local boys with something to say, to winning two Grammys and a Latin Grammy, to traveling around the world as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department to play for millions of people of different nationalities and cultures.
To commemorate, the members of Ozomatli were preparing to play a show in Pasadena that night, filled with friends and family there to celebrate with them.
On Thursday, April 7, the group will bring its Latin fusion to the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge at 7:30 p.m., presented by Breckenridge Creative Arts.
SENDING A MESSAGE
Ozomatli’s music is a fusion of everything from electrocumbia, salsa and samba to garage rock, hip hop and funk, blending influences from their own cultures and music from around the globe. The band has become known for its activism and strong viewpoints reflected in their music, and Bella’s energetic enthusiasm for their work seeps into every word as he talks about the band’s accomplishments.
Even from the beginning, the band was formed in 1995 after bass player Wil-Dog Abers helped organize a sit-in at an at-risk youth facility where he worked. Around 40 of the youth workers were fired after management found out they were working to form a union, and although they lost their jobs, a mediation process allowed them to keep rights to the building for a time. The workers opened it as a community center, and multiple bands came out of the vibrant, artistic collective that was formed at the building.
Their outspoken vocalism for their beliefs has continued to stick with the band members ever since. In a day and age when many musicians are afraid to lose fans by supporting any political viewpoints, the members of Ozomatli aren’t afraid to show the world who they are. Ozomatli was one of the first bands to be completely against the war post-9/11, Bella said, even though it wasn’t a popular stance to take at the time.
“People wanted vengeance, and people wanted revenge — understandable, whatever. It’s a human reaction. But at the same time, we were like ‘Hey man, are we doing what is the right thing to do at this moment, you know?’ And looking back on it we were totally f***ing right, the whole thing was a scam.”
As a collective, Bella admits that each member doesn’t always agree to the same ideas, but when they do, they take the opportunity as touring musicians to send their message.
“It’s always been a thing of inclusion, really,” Bella said, when asked about the main message they try to spread with their songs. “Inclusion of the sounds, inclusion of languages, inclusion of ideas that don’t agree with you. … We’ve always been a band that has a lot of love for our community and the world.”
REPRESENTING THE U.S.
A stint as cultural ambassadors provided the band the opportunity to travel around the world. Thousands would show up to see the group perform without any prior exposure to the band’s work.
“It’s monumental, it’s colossal, how much music is out there, and what is consumed in the world,” Bella said. “The cool thing for us was in a lot of ways … when they sent us off to Nepal or Madagascar — places where bands don’t go — no one knows who the hell Ozomatli is. … Crowds of over 10 to 15,000 people were showing up to the show and then digging this music, without any kind of background or internet or anything. Whether or not they bought a record didn’t matter to me. They stood there and enjoyed the music, and, for me, it was a huge testament to the quality of our work. Commercial radio be damned, I know that our music has a certain universality to it that is really valuable.”
The group has traveled to more than 40 different countries, and Bella said they have always been well received internationally. Their travels continue to influence the way they construct their music, he said.
“We’ve experienced music that is so under the radar — it’s just ridiculous how every country has its own particular local music scene and local style, and to this day, some of that stuff I’m still trying to digest,” he said. “Something that happened seven, eight, 10 years ago, like, man, what was that style called? … We would always bring back a lot of music.”
But it’s also shaped their opinions of the world and society in general, and in Ozomatli fashion, that is reflected in the songs they create. Bella recalls when the band traveled to Vietnam, and how growing up in the U.S. gave him this idea that the Vietnamese probably hate Americans. The venue the band played in was packed, and he said all of the people in the country were very friendly and enjoyed the music.
“It totally makes you realize how much a lot of the things that divide us are so illusionary,” he said. “Especially when you really break it down. Of course there are assholes everywhere, but there are so many good people in the world (who) are just wanting to hang out and hear your story. … Sometimes it takes you getting out of your usual environment to experience meeting people that are really making a difference.”
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