The musicians who would become Ozomatli got together during an L.A. labor strike in 1995. And political activism has remained central to the band.
But don’t expect a lot of preaching; the music speaks for itself, said Ulises “Uli” Bella, who plays tenor saxophone and several other instruments.
“There’s not too much politics in our shows,” Bella said. “For the most part if we do, it’ll be a moment in the show, and it’ll be very, very brief. Most of our message is in our lyrics and in the vibe of what you do. We want people to enjoy the vibe and the energy. Sometimes we’ll briefly talk about a song or what the song means. Usually there’s some sort of political overtone.”
The Grammy Award-winning band — whose sound Bella described as “Latin, funk and hip hop and everything in between” — will perform Saturday at The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs. The band also will play Fort Collins on Friday and Aspen on Sunday.
They started as a “loosely based kind of jam thing” and developed their own genre-bending sound.
Audiences are typically on their feet dancing throughout their shows.
Bella, who’s been a musician “since I was in the fourth grade,” said if his music career hadn’t found him, he’d probably be doing community outreach of some sort, “something that I feel that I could contribute to people. Even in my spare time, I do stuff like that.”
The band’s last album, “Non-Stop, Mexico to Jamaica,” contains mostly covers, “a project record where we took a really famous Mexican song and gave it the reggae treatment,” Bella said. The band has begun releasing original music. The single “Libertad” (Spanish for freedom) dropped in January. “That’s kind of been our re-introduction to (rapper) Chali 2na and writing music again,” he said.
The song is a collaboration with the band’s founding members, Chali 2na (now with the Jurassic 5) and Cut Chemist. It’s their first collaboration since Ozomatli’s self-titled 1998 debut album.
Like most of Ozomatli’s music, it gets the hips moving. The group ends shows with members playing drums and leading the crowd outside to jam.
The local show will feature songs from throughout the band’s 22 years, including fan favorites “Cumbia de los Muertos” and “Como Ves,” both from the 1998 album. “We always play certain classic Ozomatli songs,” Bella said.
The band has basically grown up together, he said, and its sound has matured with them.
“As far as the band is concerned, our strength and our weakness is that we’re multi-genre, and it’s always been very hard to figure out what box to put us in,” Bella said.
What keeps the band going?
“Life inspires us. The environment. Our times. The climate. And also just our growing kind of influences,” Bella said. “We started in L.A., which is where we found the beginning base melting pot of what Ozomatli sounds like. And then traveling to different cities and traveling internationally, we just picked up more world sounds. It’s impossible to put us in just one genre.”
MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM