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La Liga de Las Americas

Ozomatli: Ugly Betty’s nahuatl-named fusion of ethnic music

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Cleveland Correspondent


Ozomatli: Aztec astrological symbol of the monkey, which is also a god of dance, fire, and music. There can be no more befitting name for the L.A/San Diego-based, nine-member band that rocked the Cleveland House of Blues on Monday, August 20th, 2007.


Ozomatli—the Nahuatl name—is the perfect audio and visual treat for Clevelanders on a rainy Monday night. The group is on tour promoting their latest album: Don’t Mess With the Dragon, which has a collection of songs dedicated to social justice, immigration rights and criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Raul of Ozmotli performs in Cleveland House of Blues last Monday

Politics never sounded so good.


Their ethnic diversity flows in their music which is an eclectic mélange of Latin, Asian, and Arab beats with styles varying from salsa, jazz, funk, reggae, rock, and rap to the blues.


There is never a dull moment in their performance as the members constantly switch positions, instruments. It’s easy to get mesmerized by Jiro’s tabla-playing skills and Wil-Dog’s funky dance moves.


Their presence on stage is the equivalent of a breathtaking musical rollercoaster that combines passion, dance, and musical synergy, with the remarkable ability to connect with the crowd. Ozomoatili’s signature is jumping into the crowd and breaking into a drum-lead procession of the hokey pokey. 


 “They were having a good time and you could tell,” said fan María McFadden, who was visiting the Rock and Roll city from Washington D.C. She heard about their concert on NPR and immediately decided to attend. She first discovered their music while surfing her car radio, their music froze her slippery fingers and she’s been hooked on their tunes ever since.

“The House of Blues is the best venues to see them up close,” said McFadden whose alarm clock blares Ozomatli’s tunes every morning.


Raúl Pacheco said the group creates music out of sheer passion and love for the craft. “Others enjoy it too is a blessing but we always play hard,” he said.  Though he is humble about their popularity, Ozomatli’s music has been the backdrop of movies like Never Been Kissed, Spanglish, and most recently in the popular TV show Ugly Betty.


Ozomatli formed in 1995 and has toured the globe from Japan, India, Australia, and Europe delivering their strong political message in English and Spanish. They are vigorously involved in anti-war rallies and were recently recruited by the U.S. State Department to tour Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia as U.S. Cultural Ambassadors to the Middle East.


Although greatly influenced by Latino music, Ozomatli has yet to perform in South America. Raúl said Latin tour is in the works for February 2008.


Ozomatli is comprised of band members: Asdru, Jabu, Jiru, Justin, Mario, Raúl, Uli, and Wil-Dog.


Visit Ozomati at www.ozomatli.com to experience their instrumental concoctions.


Editor’s Note: Esperanza’s salsa dance contest—Viva La Salsa—is scheduled for October 6, 2007, during Hispanic Heritage Month, at the I-X Center in Cleveland.







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