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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

[whitespace] Ozomatli Unity in Diversity: Ozomatli is 11 members strong.

Jesse Chornesky

One World:
L.A.'s Ozomatli moves listeners in a colorblind musical utopia

MAYBE WE can all get along, if Ozomatli is any indication. With members from various ethnic groups, the band plays a spirited and spiritual salsa-Latin-funk-jazz-hip-hop thing. Ozomatli performs at Fuel in San Jose on Saturday (April 11).

"We have a really good following, very diverse," says Ulises Bella, tenor saxophonist. "From what everybody tells me, it's hard to get a loyal following in L.A. We came in and created our own family of fans. So far, we've saturated L.A. We played the rich areas, the ghettos and Orange County, and people aren't tired of us yet." Ozomatli outgrew its weekly residency at the Opium Den and moved to the larger Dragonfly. The buzz caught the attention of Almo (Herb Alpert's label), which signed the fellas to a deal. The group has a brief four-track CD out, with a full-length release due June 3. Fans can look forward to tracks like "Misma Canción," "Chota," "Aquí No Será" and "Super Bowl Sunday."

The band--named after the Aztec god of dance--includes members of Cuban, Mexican, African, Japanese and European descent. Their instruments include everything from turntables and Indian tablas to tenor sax and the Mexican guitar known as a bajo sexto. "We never sat down and said, 'This is the sound we wanted to create,' " Bella explains. "We knew each other and jammed with each other. Usually ideas will start with the individual. The idea will stay original, then sometimes it will mutate, and the group will put something on top of it. There are no boundaries to what we can and cannot do."

Ozomatli doesn't slouch on any styles, either. Its Latin rhythms recall early Santana, while the hip-hop rings just as true (Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist and Chali 2na are Ozo members). I missed last month's Justice League set by minutes, but Ozomatli's aftershocks lingered: the fans twirled their hearts out to a DJ, as if Ozo's set had never ended.

I warn Bella that San Jose has a reputation for being pretty uptight. "We never force people to dance," Bella responds. "If people don't dance, it makes us play harder to get people off their butts." Bella takes a mental note and tells Ozo compatriot Wil-Dog, "Hey, Wil, this guy says that San Jose doesn't dance." A muffled laugh follows. "Oh yeah?" relays Bella. "We'll know what to do."

SFMX4 Tonight!

Tickets for SFMX4 go on sale in front of the Usual on Thursday (April 9) at 7:30pm. All music starts at 8:30pm. Strap on the roller-skates and enjoy the full roster; all proceeds benefit the Metro Foundation. Soda will not be performing and will instead pursue separate avenues of expression. Filling in are good sports and solid rap rockers Jalopy Taco Stand. ... On the hip-hop tip, Japan's DJ Honda spins at the Justice League in San Francisco on Friday (April 10), and Hobo Junction (starring Saafir, Poke Martian, Eye Cue and the rest) and Ahmad ("Back in the Day") do a show at Cactus Club on Sunday.

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From the April 9-15, 1998 issue of Metro.

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