Vail Valley music: ‘Booty-shaking good times’
AVON – Ozomatli, which plays at Agave Thursday night, has been churning out its unique blend of ethnic styles since 1995, delving into sounds such as funk, hip-hop, salsa, merengue, reggae and cumbia along the way. Since its formation, the band has toured with Carlos Santana, won a Grammy, appeared in an episode of “Sex and the City” and toured the world as cultural ambassadors sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Jiro Yamaguchi, multi-faceted percussionist and founding member of the band, spoke with us recently about Ozomatli’s music, success and activism.
Vail Daily: Ozomatli has had a long and varied career and has added and subtracted band members often, sometimes even including MCs such as Chali 2na and Tre Hardson. With all these changes, it’s sometimes hard to keep the lineup straight, though there have been six constant members – what is the current lineup, and how does this band’s dynamic compare to previous lineups?
Jiro Yamaguchi: The current lineup consists of the six founding members (Wil-Dog Abers, Raul Pacheco, Justin “El Nino” Poree, Asdrubal Sierra, Ulises Bell and Yamaguchi) plus our longtime drummer, Mario Calire. Our growth as individuals and as musicians has put us in the best place we’ve ever been, and our music today reflects that.
VD: What can concertgoers expect from your show in Avon?
JY: We are playing a lot of new music from our new album “Fire Away,” which will be released April 20. You can expect high-energy, booty-shaking good times.
VD: Ozomatli has had a lot of success and done a lot of things that other bands would kill for, such as touring with Santana and winning a Grammy, to name just two. What sticks out as the most memorable experience of your career so far, and why?
JY: As a band, we’re blessed with the ever-growing level of success that we have. Some of the experiences that are closest to us are playing for children in the most heart-wrenching of situations, like orphans in Nepal or kids with HIV in South Africa. What is most striking for us is that these kids are so bright, vibrant, alive and happy. It is so powerful to watch them light up and dance.
VD: Ozomatli has long been associated with activism and political causes – overall, what do you hope to accomplish politically or globally with your music? What causes are you interested in supporting as a band?
JY: We are interested in bringing people together and spreading joy through our music. Our main focus is on the humanity of people around the world and seeing our similarities rather than our differences.
VD: What was it like touring the world essentially as U.S. ambassadors? Did that change how you view or look at Ozomatli as a group or as a band?
JY: Being so called “cultural ambassadors” has given us the opportunity to tour countries that many bands don’t and many times can’t normally go – places like Myanmar, Jordan, Madagascar or Vietnam, to name some. It’s great to meet people and musicians from all over the world. It contributes to our growth personally and musically. Several of the songs on our latest record have direct influences from our travels.
VD: Despite all your history, successes and a big following among the initiated, Ozomatli is not really a household name in the U.S. as a whole – how do you feel about that? Is more widespread recognition something that you guys are concerned about, or are you happy with the niche you’ve carved out for yourselves?
JY: We love what we are doing, and new doors are always opening for us. It’s exciting that our name is growing both here and abroad. Those “who know” keep spreading the word, and we love that!
VD: What’s next for the band? Do you guys have anything in the works?
JY: We have a new record coming out on April 20 called “Fire Away.” It’s great, and we encourage everyone to go buy it! We will be touring a lot with this record, so check out our tour dates at Ozomatli.com. We are also touring Australia, China and Mongolia in the next few months, so there are good times to be had here and abroad.