Street Signs

Ozomatli, 2004

It is time for a revolution.
It is time for another Ozomatli album.
It is time for Street Signs

The last time Los Angeles' beloved Afro-Latin-and-beyond style-mashers released an album, was September 11, 2001. While most bands in the United States responded to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by cancelling their concerts, Ozomatli - a multi-racial crew who have never been shy about their commitment to social justice, progressive politics, and anti-war convictions - decided to keep their dates and keep playing.

'Music is the key to every culture, the beginning of an understanding,' says the band's trumpet player and co-vocalist Asdru Sierra. 'September 11 really pushed us to delve into North African and Arab music. For us, music is a language far more universal than politics.'

Since then, the band have released the Coming Up EP for their US label Concord (available in UK on import or via www.ozomatli.com), which gave fans a clue as to what awaited them in Street Signs. That six-track EP earned them the Billboard Magazine Award for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album of 2004.

Street Signs - the band's first full-length studio album in three years and their debut on Real World Records - bears this new Middle Eastern influence out in typical Ozo style, by mixing it into their trademark blend of hip-hop and Latin styles. When the band's original MC Chali 2na (now of Jurassic 5) returns to take centre stage on 'Who's To Blame,' he drops rhymes about 'presidential motorcades' and 'Yakuza tattoos' over a reedy Gnawa trance session complete with tablas and hand-claps. 'Believe,' the album's uplifting opener that looks for hope in destruction, features Veteran Moroccan sintir master Hassan Hakmoun, who's joined by the acclaimed French-Jewish gypsy violinists Les Yeux Noir and The Prague Symphony.

The band invited Eddie Palmieri, the legendary Latin jazz and salsa pianist, to play on 'Nadie Te Tira,' where his gorgeous solo piano lines set off a round of horn-blasted salsa fusion. Along with Palmieri, Hakmoun, Les Yeux Noir, Chali 2na, and the Prague Symphony, their original DJ, Cut Chemist, also joins Ozomatli on 'Dejame en Paz'. There's also the band's new MC Jabu (formerly of 4th Avenue Jones) and guest drummer, Mario Calire (formerly of The Wallflowers).

Throw in a mixologist who's worked with everyone from Justin Timberlake and N.E.R.D. to Michael Jackson and Prince (Serben Ghenea), and engineers who've collaborated with the likes of Beck, Santana, Jack Johnson, and Cypress Hill (Robert Carranza and Anton Pukshansky), and you get what is easily the band's most vibrant and ambitious project to date.

'After eight years of being together,' explains tenor saxophonist Ulises Bella, 'our overall comfort level with ourselves and with our playing has really grown. The songs venture off to a lot of different areas. That's the beauty of Ozomatli, being able to do things really differently than everyone else.'

Street Signs is both a mature testament to the band's nearly decade-long evolution and a fresh, dance floor-rocking reminder of their commitment to creating original music in the face of industry conservatism. 'Saturday Night' is a 'dip-dive-socialize' hip-hop block party. 'Love & Hope' is an anthem waiting to happen with its English-language mix of Arabic strings and new-school Chicano funk-rock. 'Dejame En Paz' is a papi chulo merengue fest that boils over into the mosh pit. The band even re-mixes itself (with the help of Ghenea and John Hanes) on 'Ya Viene El Sol,' turning its soaring concert sing-a-long into a broken-beat electro cut-up of dancehall, batucada, and jarocho.

'Since we started, our perspectives have changed as our lives have changed,' says Bella. 'We just trust each other more now. Everyone gives everyone the space we all need. This band did not start, at all, to get a record deal. It started out of love for the music we made, and that's exactly where we still are.'

'The best live band in the world' Time Out

Reviews

  • Ozomatli are one of the most purely exciting live bands on the planet - purveyors of cross-cultural party rhythms, who as often as not unplug their instruments and jam out on the streets for an encore. Somehow though, they've never quite managed to translate all this buzz and bustle onto disc. Until now that is. "Street Signs" finds the LA globalist/latin/hip hop crew toying with Middle Eastern/Arabic rhythms (their righteous response to post 9/11 bigotry) alongside their usual tropical shakedown. The opening, "Believe" is a ferocious mix of Middle Eastern strings and latino funk-rock, "Who's To Blame" has a swirling snake-charmer melody alonside a socially conscious rap, the Beatle Bob remix of "Ya Viene El Sol" really captures the out of control, good-time spirit of their live shows, whilst "Who Discovered America" is an immigrant's ode to the promised land with a bitter sting in its tail. For the first time they've been given a production that does them justice - punchy, bright and bass heavy. Rarely has the revolutionary spirit sounded so butt-shakingly funky! Straight No Chaser (UK)
  • Gnawa, Balkan Gypsy and Eddie Palmieri meet Latin-hop fire Los Angelinos Ozomatli are one of the world's greatest bands, a 21st century Los Lobos, masters of the whole range of Latin styles and rhythms, but with a hip-hop sensibility thrown in... It's an album that searches for hope amid the destruction that's going on around us. To create more light, they've tossed an explosive bundle of Middle Eastern and Balkan musical idioms onto their Latin hip-hop fire. They kick off with the triumph that is "Believe": a totally engaging, hip-smacking blend of Balkan Gypsy, Latin Hip-Rock, Les Yeux Noir and the Forte Music City Of Prague Orchestra, with Hassan Hakmoun on backing vocals. But the pace and the electric delights do not slacken. Amongst this irresistible tour de force, you'll find the hip-hop chaabi of "Who's To Blame" with Jurassic 5's MC Cahli 2na in full philosophical flow; the Chicano rock of the love/hate song 'America' and a heart melting Mexican beats balad, 'Santiago', with Los Lobos' David Hildago on guitar. And when legendary pianist, Eddie Palmieri joins them in the orgiastic salsa of 'Nadie Te Tira', you know this has to be one of the best albums of 2004. Songlines (UK)
  • album review In this age of disillusioning politics, my vote goes to the Ozomatli street party. There's no other group that can mix the incongruent ingredients of lyrical defiance, global dance beats, hip-hop attitude and pop hooks so convincingly and explosively. On their third full-length album to date, the outspoken Los Angelianos have not only expressed their political convictions in text, but have also implied them in their music, marrying their characteristic hard-edged Latino beats for the first time with North African and Arab music. The result is Ozomatli's lushest album to date. There's a sea of melancholic strings, deep enough to drown in, a tide of tumbling rhythms, and sharp samples that sit at odd angles to create a dizzying tension. Ozomatli seem to have cracked that secret to merging the simple with the sophisticated. Their choruses are charming sing-along rhymes that will repeat themselves endlessly in your head after only one listening. The lyrics are rallying cries to save the world and guard hope, and the musical canvas is rich and luscious and drips with deft mixology. To perfect their clever craftmanship, the multi-skilled Ozomatli combo has invited a host of stellar guests. Eddie Palmieri works his piano on "Nadie Te Tira", Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2na adds his bass-heavy rapping to the trancy gnawa backing of "Who's to Blame", and Moroccan master musician Hassan Hakmoun graces the elevating "Believe" with his instrumental skills. It's a feast for the ears and a party for the feet. Reviewer: Katharina Lobeck BBC Website (UK)
  • Buy It While The Weather's Hot! Ozomatli have broadened their palatte significantly on their third album 'Street Signs'. Having made their name with the latino funk party vibe of their first (self-titiled) album, and especially Cut Chemist's anthemic 'suite' remix, they now take on a far wider range of world music sources, all sliced and diced in their own inimitable style to create a rich boullabaise. The party anthems are still here, 'Love and Hope' is as purely positive as the title suggests, and the hip hop cuts still cut it - on 'Street Signs' and 'Saturday Night' they make some of the strongest live hip hop this side of the Roots. Where this album departs from the last two is the increasing concentration on sounds and rhythms from other continents, not just sudamerica.... All fans of Manu Chao should now be picking this up, as well as fans of latin dance - and if you don't fall into one or both of those groups then buy it anyway while the weather's still hot, you won't be disappointed papichulo. British Hit Singles on Line (UK)
  • album review Born out of a downtown Los Angeles arts collective, Ozomatli hawk a hot, bubbling, multicultural musical pizza - hip hop, funk, ska and punk, with extra Latin salsa and Middle-Eastern spice. The Arabic music and the appearance of Moriccan Gnawa star Hassan Hakmoun amount to post 9/11 comment (the Egyptian-sounding strings were recorded in Prague and submitted over the internet). Who's To Blame raps about "presidential-motorcades" and "secret political interests" over a Moroccan groove. On the latin front, top salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri contributes a couple of solos with party-style merengue and touches of smooch to offset the urban attitude. Mixer Serban Ghenea, who has worked with Justin Timberlake and Prince, makes it sound like a cohesive, if anarchic, musical statement. Evening Standard (UK)
  • CD of the week I'l never forget the euphoric surge through the crowd at Womad as Ozomatli bass player Wil-Dog Abers ordered them to raise their hands in peach signs... these Latino hip-hop rockers have a Clash-like ability to induce a sense of ecstatic, fist-waving "commitment". Their blend of big authentic choruses, razor-sharp horn arrangements and grinding bass rhythms rocks like hell, and the fact that they emerged through social activism in some of the meanest neighbourhoods in Los Angeles - campaigning against poor working conditions and proposing a positive alternative to gun culture - lends their sloganeering an ususual degree of grittiness. ...this third album...has a good score of powerful, uplifting moments. The opener, Believe, arrives on a wave of surging ne-oriental strings, pounding bass and wah-wah guitar. The rapping...has real bite. Saturday Night makes a fantastic LA teen anthem of entirely the right sort, while the salsa-fide Nadie Te Tira, featuring veteran pianist Eddie Palmieri, kicks up a real riot. ...enter into the Ozomatli spirit and you will certainly be moved. Daily Telegraph (UK)
  • album review Hip hop with a conscience, though the US collective transcend political sloganeering and augment their Latin sounds with flavours drawn from Morocco and the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Observer (Music Monthly) (UK)
  • album review Recent weeks have seen Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys theme heavy albums on a post 9-11 world. This highly-politicised latino-hiphop collective were already addressing US hegemony on their 1998 debut, so instead of hand-wringing they push the envelope musically by incorporating Arabic sounds into their template. It works a treat and poses the question, does music speak louder than words? The Independent (UK)
  • album review ‘Street Signs' the new album by Ozomatli is another romp into the world of Latin fused music. There is no denying their energy and musical talent. Ozomatli are probably well known to festival goers. They have one of the best live performances known. This party feel transcends through the music creating vibrant and intellectually challenging music. Ozomatli are Latin based, using a full band with bongos and Latin guitar. They fuse this music with other world styles and have a strong focus on conscience hip-hop on a lot of the big tunes. The album starts with ‘Believe' which has a strong Middle Eastern feel and an uplifting nature. There's your more typical Latin numbers for that salsa dance and ‘party party' atmosphere. Most of the band can sing which is executed excellently with great rhyming skills by the MC's, all positive in content. If you like Jurassic 5 you'll like this Latin version on some songs. ‘Saturday Night' particularly stood out to me. It has a blues-rock riff on the guitar with a very funky rhythm, dangerous mcing and total head bopping potential. Street Signs' is a missing link and a stab in the direction of where some new hip-hop can go. ‘Street Signs' is another uplifting album form Ozomatli. Still staying true to their sound they have produced similar tracks that will delight fans. A diverse mix of songs, that all have a strong rhythm originating from those Latin lands. Tareck Ghoneim contactmusic.com (website)
  • album review Ozomatli are surely the boldest band in America right now. A predominantly Chicano group from Los Angeles, they started out by fusing Latin styles and rap while playing political benefits and parties, and have kept adding to the mix. Their new discovery is north Africa, as demonstrated by Believe, the first track, which somehow manages to collide a pounding funk riff, Moroccan sinter, Gypsy violins and the swirling strings of the Prague Symphony. It ought to be a mess but ends up as a wildly cheerful anthem. Elsewhere they mix rap with Latin jazz piano (there's even an appearance by Eddie Palmieri), wailing Latin guitar rock and the less frantic Spanish sound of bands such as Ojos de Brujo and Radio Tarifa. UK (The Guardian)
  • Rock Critic's Choice LA CITYBEAT Rock Critics Choice The following Rock Critic’s Choice preview of Ozomatli’s Dragonfly shows appeared with photo in the June 17-23 issue of LA Citybeat: Rolling and tumbling, Ozomatli’s music courses with Latin American rhythms and hip-hop’s stuttering unpredictability... well, at least, good hip-hop. Fiery and political, with a love of L.A.’s urban traditions, Ozo’s been a local favorite for almost a decade: Place this crew before a festival audience, and they’re guaranteed to walk off the stage with hundreds of new Ozo die-hards in their pockets. Yet, in the past, the multiracial collaborative has often been defeated by its major label benefactors’ lack of enthusiasm, and totally ignored by commercial radio... And sometimes, it’s simply not been anyone’s fault. Heck, if your band had the terrible misfortune to release its pivotal second album (Embrace the Chaos) on a certain fateful day in September, 2001, it might have had some difficulty getting folks in the mood to dance, too. Which is why it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Indie 103.1 pumping the shit out of the new single, “Saturday Night,” a party-hearty jam with a subtle, uplifting message. This trio of shows at one of the band’s spiritual homes, the Dragonfly (where the players would regularly lead conga lines out the exit doors, past bemused Santa Monica Boulevard pedestrians), celebrates the appearance of Ozo’s newest, the worldbeat flavored Street Signs. As Jurassic 5 members Cut Chemist and Chali 2na now make only infrequent supporting appearances, Street Signs seems less a collision of the band’s usual rap-infused, L.A. Street styles than a broadening, panoramic overview of Latin, African,a nd even Arabic musical touchstones. (As ever, the group still knows how to whip up a mean salsa/merengue/cumbia fusion.) Back from the brink, Ozomatli clearly plans to to throw its biggest possible hometown party yet. LA Citybeat (USA)
  • It's difficult to label Ozomatli , a band that fits in bins as diverse as conscious hip-hop, Latin, rock and jazz. The easiest tack? Give up trying to pigeonhole this Los Angeles collective and just delve into the groove. Ozomatli's third album, " Street Signs ," continues to blend traditional Latin rhythms with pop genres, but extends its sound further east - incorporating everything from Middle Eastern and North African styles To lavish strings courtesy of the Prague Symphony. Rai-style vocals, orchestral sweeps and percussive hip-hop collide in the opening track, "Believe," and politico-rap takes an Eastern edge on the barbed "Who's to Blame." Latin soul rules "(Who Discovered) America?," and strings learn to tango in "Te Estoy Buscando." If any label suits Ozomatli , it's " street party band" -- with all the political and celebratory meanings that implies. San Francisco Chronicle (USA)
  • ...an irresistible 21st-century melange layered with various messages of defiance. "Street Signs," the group's third album, is full of protest both explicit ("[Who Discovered] America?" and "Who's to Blame") and implicit (the Middle Eastern underpinnings of such tracks as "Believe," which enlists Moroccan singer Hassan Hakmoun). Stylistically speaking, Ozomatli's modus operandi remains fairly static, but that hardly makes the music sedate. "Street Signs" is the sound of a dozen different forms of music blasting from car stereos and mingling in the air. Latin, hip-hop, rock, jazz, funk, soul -- nothing is out of bounds for Ozomatli, because it keeps expanding the boundaries. Unlike 2001's cameo-heavy "Embrace the Chaos," the group sounds perfectly in control of its sonic stew, as comfortable in its grasp of cumbia as it is with its blasts of punk and DJ Cut Chemist's deft turntable-scratching. It's a microcosm of 21st-century America, a 50-minute travelogue through our back yards and barrios. washingtonpost.com (internet)
  • album review L.A. based- collective Ozomatli are mesh-up maestros: Their Latin-rock-rap-reggae-funk fusion mirrors the ethnic makeup of their hometown. On their third full-length, the nine-piece adds Middle Eastern/Indian accents to the multiculti mix, leading to some insanely overstuffed arrangements. Still, there's no denying the sheer energy of this idealist crew. If the U.N. needs a house band, Ozo's the act to call. Entertainment Weekly (ewweekly.com) (internet)
  • The Aztec Monkey god of music is back! (Please excuse the intro, someone just told me what Ozo means) The L.A. based Ozomatli drops their 3rd long player in the form of Street Signs, which is rife with an assortment of genres, sometimes all within the same song. Hip Hop, Latin music – i.e. Salsa, Merengue, etc. - are most prevalent within the group’s sound but it’s the pop base of Ozo the group will never relinquish. Whether it’s the Tony Touch-like title track, with raps over a Latin/Hip Hop beat, or the horn filled “Who Discovered America,” the catchy hooks are always there. Street Signs never ceases its rhythmic bounce from beginning to end. There’s definitely something here for everyone AND their parents. Ghettoblaster.it (Internet)
  • album review With dance-happy horns and percussionists and thought-provoking English and Spanish lyrics, Ozomatli may be America's best political party. Back with a new album, "Street Signs" (Concord), in an election year, they have a reason to turn up the politics and turn down the party vibe, but that's never been the spirit of Ozomatli -- they'd rather see you twist and think simultaneously. At a record-release/homecoming party at their old L.A. haunt the Dragonfly (a venue the band outgrew almost a decade ago), there was little talk of policy and a ton of simultaneous hand-clapping, as well as an undeniable sense of the multicultural fun Ozomatli has trademarked as its own. New songs like "Te Estoy Buscando" and the current single "Saturday Night" fit in perfectly with Ozomatli's back catalog; the first is a string-laden Spanish heartache, the latter a straight-ahead hip-hop song about getting ready to hit a nightclub. That neither sounds out of place at an Ozomatli show says a lot about how much music makes its way into the band's sound; hints of rock, reggae, cumbia, salsa, ska and jazz all broke through at various points in the evening. But, despite all these points of reference and a stage packed elbow-to-elbow with players, there's no messiness, no instrumental overload. Instead, Ozomatli is a band of the people -- a point proved with the conga line its members weave through the crowd before and after their set, and the way they leave each other room to improvise and experiment, even during their most complicated compositions. It's a tough line to tread, but Ozomatli does it effortlessly, throwing the kind of party most bands dream about while never undermining its all-encompassing spirit of unity. The Daily Variety (www.variety.com) (USA/internet)
  • Oh, Ozomatli, how do we love thee? Oh, Ozomatli , how do we love thee? Let us count the ways: You blend Latin rock, afro-beats, Middle Eastern licks, and old-school hip-hop with ease. You are among the most consistently energetic, enthralling and enthusiastic live bands on the planet. You have put behind beef with your old MC, Chali-2-Na, to reunite for the song "Who's to Blame" on your new record, Street Signs . Three of you were arrested outside a show in Austin, TX, and--instead of canceling your upcoming show there--you printed "Free The Ozo 3" shirts and got your buddies bailed out just in time for the show. You tease "The Chicken Dance" when you come out into the audience at the end of your shows, which are sponsored by KROQ, KCRW and Power 106, just proving how diverse you are. But the reason we love you most? With your melting-pot style, ear-to-ear smiles, outspoken political raps and multilingual songs, you do more than give props to your (and our) hometown: You define it. LA.com (internet/USA)
  • The Album They Were Destined To Make! This band are the true sound of modern California and this is the album they have been destined to make. With the inclusion of Arabic rhythms and structures into their urban take on Latin music, it is an extremely satisfying album from start to finish. Renowned for their live shows, this fabulous record deserves to establish them commerically. Music Week (UK)