Ozomatli Brings L.A. Sound to MAYFest NY
Ozomatli defies simple categorization. Steeped in the cultures and sounds of their hometown of Los Angeles, they are known for pioneering a fusion of Latin, and hip-hop that at times veers into mariachi and reggae, all while staying true to their roots. Ozomatli have performed all over the world for over two decades, even being named Cultural Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. We caught up with Ozomatli as they prepare to head to New York for MAYfest this weekend.
Ozomatli is of and about Los Angeles, so when I spoke with band member Ulises Bella, I was curious to know how a group of self-proclaimed L.A. vatos was feeling about playing at MAYfest New York, the music, arts, and yoga festival that at times feels more like a summer camp for adults than a concert venue. We began, though, by talking about their roots in Los Angeles.
Ozomatli: If you live here and are from here, you really understand the cross-pollination of all these cultures and the wonderful things that come about because of it. The interesting thing about living in L.A. is that it kind of prepared us for global culture, for the idea of looking for the commonalities in different cultures and realizing at the same time how much we have in common. I feel like a citizen of the world in a lot of aspects and feel heavily influenced by different cultures’ music.
SR: I love the idea that you’re infusing MAYfest with some L.A. ritmo. What are you hoping participants of MAYfest will take away from their Ozomatli experience?
Ozomatli: Whether we’re playing at MAYfest or in Mongolia, the thing that we’ve always tried to connect with people is giving them that music that makes them want to dance. We’ve played cumbias for people in Madagascar and they dig it! I’m sure at MAYfest some of the music we’re going to be playing is going to be completely alien to them and some of it might not, but I know that they’re going to be able to dance to it.
SR: MAYfest is known for being an interactive festival, with classes and workshops in addition to musical performances. Will the band be participating in any of these activities?
Ozomatli: I don’t know if we’ll have the time, but I do know that one of our buddies from way back, DJ Drez, is going to be there and he’s super into the whole yoga scene, so if anything we might say hello to him. I know that most of us in the band have done yoga at one point or another and are fans of it. We have friends who are yoga instructors so it might be cool to take a class.
Ozomatli’s latest album, Nonstop: Mexico to Jamaica was released this month, and features a foray into new territory, reggae, and a collaboration with Gaby Moreno. I asked Uli about his all-male band’s female role models and collaborators.
Ozomatli: I think that one element we’ve always had is that we’ve had to basically import female energy. There have been plenty of times where someone like Martha from Quetzal — we’ve collaborated wither her — she’s a fucking force of nature! We’re about to do a video tomorrow with Gaby Moreno. She’s fucking amazing. She did Solamente una Vez. Her version is one of my favorite tracks on the record. Ozomatli needs that female energy. Too many vatos make any party suck!
If you’re not yet familiar with Ozomatli, check out their TED Talk, which elaborates on the band’s take on L.A.-rooted multiculturalism. For a taste of what the band is like on stage, check out their performance of Cumbia de los Muertos for Seattle’s KEXP.
MAYfest 2017 takes place this weekend in Cold Spring, New York. Tickets are still available and participants of all ages are welcome.