Ozomatli Gets Phillips Jumping
by Lindsay Crawford

On Monday evening, there were two reasons to enjoy life in Oberlin — summer weather and Ozomatli, the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk band. In their third straight year of touring, Ozomatli, which is Nahuatl for the Aztec god of dance, has come a long way from their humble Los Angeles beginnings where they started out playing local clubs in 1995.
They have spent the last three years touring with the likes of Santana and Yo La Tengo, doing shows in Europe, Australia, Japan, Mexico and Cuba. Despite the success and acclaim that the band has acquired, they still seem comfortable performing in a steamy college gymnasium, a performance space utterly lacking in good acoustics.
While Ozomatli is best known for their Latin and hip-hop influences, the band draws on a variety of musical styles for inspiration. The band’s Black-Chicano-Cuban-Japanese-Jewish-Filipino crew has everything from north Indian classical music training to experience playing in Irish bar bands. The music contains both electronically generated salsa loops and live horns, and the band makes use of percussive instruments from more than five different countries. With a sound that could best be described as a musical collision, Ozomatli provides a distinctive listening experience.
Many of the people in attendance at Monday’s show in Phillips had little, if any, experience with Ozomatli. “When I glanced at Oberlin Online I thought they described Ozomatli as a Latin punk band. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was mistaken,” junior Alicia Cozza said.
Luckily, Ozomatli is not the kind of band that requires an intimate knowledge of their music in order to be enjoyed. From the show’s opening, when the band made their way through the room and up onto the stage playing various percussion instruments and horns, the audience was already digging their style.
It was difficult to resist the urge to dance, and many an audience member could be seen vigorously shaking their hips or bobbing their heads. “I had only heard a few of Ozomatli’s songs before going to the concert,” junior Emily Barbour said, “I went to the show hoping to dance, and I got my wish — they were amazing.”
Even those who were familiar with Ozomatli’s two albums were impressed with their live show. “I knew that I liked the band,” sophomore Lisa Haisfield said, “but I had no idea that they would be so good live.”
Phillips Gym may not have been filled to capacity, but Ozomatli managed to work well with the space and the crowd — keeping the audience members involved in the music and the show. The band knew exactly how to mix it up, showcasing some of their more hip-hop oriented tracks like “Vocal Artillery” to hype up the crowd, and then bringing things down so everyone could take a break. It might have been difficult for a band that not everyone was familiar with to hold people’s interest, but Ozomatli seemed to have no problems at all.
One of the best parts of Ozomatli’s performance was its members’ confidence onstage. When the audience got tired from dancing and had to take a break, the band members would wring out their sweaty shirts and keep going. They maintained an incredible amount of energy — dancing on stage and interacting with each other. It soon became clear that Ozomatli actually enjoyed playing for a small Oberlin crowd. Near the end of the show students got up onstage, accidentally destroying the stage’s sound in the process. This didn’t faze the musicians. They came right out into the crowd and continued playing.
Eventually, the band led everyone out into the lobby, finishing the show performing a sing-a-long version of the Sesame Street theme song that would have pleased anyone weaned on public television.
Overall, Ozomatli delivered an excellent performance. They’re a band that deserves respect not only for musical talent, but also for their commitment to activism and politics. It was refreshing to see a band that wasn’t too caught up in its own image to have fun playing music, or too full of itself to enjoy performing for a relatively small audience of college students. Hopefully, next time Ozomatli decides to make an appearance at Oberlin, people will know that it is an opportunity not to be missed.

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