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After election, Ozomatli’s party really begins

Ozomatli  members (from left): Asdru Sierra, Raúl Pacheco, Wil-Dog Abers, Ulises Bella, Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin Porée.

Ozomatli members (from left): Asdru Sierra, Raúl Pacheco, Wil-Dog Abers, Ulises Bella, Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin Porée.

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published Jan. 21.

Speaking less than 24 hours after Barack Obama was elected president, it was natural that a conversation with Ozomatli bassist Wil-Dog Abers would veer toward politics. It likely would have, regardless.

Ozomatli always has supported social causes. In fact, the Los Angeles-based band formed in the mid-1990s to perform at a labor protest. That’s led to a career that includes four full-length studio albums, three Grammy Awards and two Billboard Latin Awards. The nine-piece band plays a potpourri of musical styles, including Latino hip-hop and salsa, dancehall, cumbia, samba, funk, merengue, comparsa, Jamaican reggae and Indian raga. To say its music is diverse is akin to saying that water is wet.

Despite its success, Ozomatli never stopped spreading its message of peace and tolerance. So, despite publicly criticizing the Bush administration on many occasions, Ozomatli accepted an offer to serve as U.S. State Department Cultural Ambassadors. The band traveled in the past year to Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East in a series of government-sponsored tours. Ozomatli also became the first-ever Western band to play in Nepal, Abers says.

“It gave us a chance to spread the message of peace,” Abers says by phone during a tour stop in Montana. “It was interesting. I think for some of the people who work in the state department, maybe in some ways they got their voices heard by getting a band like us. People all around the world wanted Obama. There were signs for Obama in other countries.”

Not so much in Montana, however. Only hours before the interview, Abers was in a barbershop for a haircut.

“It was amazing the (crap) that came out of their mouths,” Abers said of the shop’s workers and clientele. In the past, Abers said he might have used a few obscenities and left angrily. Instead, he stayed and calmly spoke his mind.

“I couldn’t just sit there and not say anything,” he says. “I’ve been all around the world. I was the only person in that shop that had been anywhere else. They started calling me a commie. It became a big joke. Even though we didn’t agree, we had a positive interaction. I think me staying there without yelling was growth for me.”

Abers, 35, is cautiously excited about the possibility of positive growth for America. He disagrees with Obama on several issues, including same-sex marriage (which Obama says he is against) and immigration.

“I’m hoping for the best,” he says. “I just hope we don’t get disappointed. That would really be a letdown. He (Obama) is a world star. People all over the world are pulling for him. He’s got a lot of expectations to live up to. He’s got the masses behind him, so let’s do it. We can’t be screwing up this world anymore.”

Ozomatli has welcomed the return of rapper Chali 2na (pronounced “Charlie Tuna”) to the band. After recording the first album, 2na left to join Jurassic Five. After it disbanded last year, 2na – who always maintained a friendship with his old mates – returned to the group.

“He was part of our original sound,” Abers says. “Having him back is soothing to the ear and to the band. He adds an element to the show that rounds it all out.”

Ozomatli shows are nothing but all-out fun. The first 90 minutes features songs from all of its albums, plus a few new original tunes never before heard. Next, the band ventures into the audience to lead fans into a 20-minute samba dance. It’s a tiring experience, one that allows the band to do only one show nightly.

“We jump around so much and give so much, for us to play longer, we’d have to create a different show,” Abers says. “We give it our all every show. That’s the only way we know how to play. We’d pass out if we tried to do two shows.”



What: Ozomatli in concert, with Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta opening.

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.

Price: $23 advance, $25 day of show

Info: 740-1000, rialtotheatre.com

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