Street Signs

Ozomatli

Released 22 June 2004

  1. Believe
  2. Love And Hope
  3. Street Signs
  4. Who Discovered America?
  5. Who's To Blame
  6. Te Estoy Buscando
  7. Saturday Night
  8. Déjame En Paz
  9. Santiago
  10. Ya Viene El Sol - The Beatle Bob Remix
  11. Doña Isabelle
  12. Nadie Te Tira
  13. Cuando Canto

Liner notes

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.’

Reviews

  • 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. The Observer (UK)
  • 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. The Guardian (UK)

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