Ozomatli: Making music they can be proud of

July 19, 2013|By Steve Appleford,

This post has been corrected. See details below.

The quick, sharp blasts of a pocket trumpet can be heard out in the courtyard. Inside a small Echo Park home recording studio, Asdrubal Sierra is adding his horn parts to a new song by Ozomatli. It's a warm, danceable track destined to be offered for use at the next World Cup soccer tournament, and a fitting sound for a vibrantly multicultural event.

Just outside sit two of Sierra's bandmates, singer-guitarist Raul Pacheco and percussionist-singer Jiro Yamaguchi, relaxing in the shade to talk about a new season of activity for the distinctive Los Angeles band. Nearly two decades ago, Ozomatli began as a group of young political activists with a gift for music that reflected multiple layers of sound and culture. Today the band is sufficiently established that the City of Los Angeles has declared April 23 Ozomatli Day.


"I don't think any of this has been part of any master plan," said Pacheco with a laugh.

They're at the house of bassist Wil-Dog Abers on a recent summer afternoon mainly to continue working on the band's first new album since 2010's "Fire Away" and the 2012 children's CD "Ozokidz." The six-piece band is about two-thirds into the project, with 11 songs nearing completion for an early 2014 release on Vanguard Records.

On weekends, Ozomatli has also returned to live performing, including a concert Sunday at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank. Next year's touring plans will take the group again across the U.S., with trips to Australia, South America and elsewhere.

"There was a time when we toured so much we wanted a break, and now we're ready to come out hard," said Pacheco, who is bearded with a shaved head. It won't be the first time.

Ozomatli had a mission before its members even had a band. They began as young community activists at the Peace and Justice Center, located in the early '90s at 4th and S. Bixel streets in downtown Los Angeles, right around the corner from Prince's elegant but now-defunct Grand Slam club.

"Not having a lot of money, we wondered, how can we contribute to this and create something? OK, we'll be the band," remembers Pacheco, who once sang as part of the California Boys Choir and studied music at Pasadena City College with jazz trumpeter Bobby Bradford. "From the first gig, our mission was for people to really enjoy it when we played."

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