Ozomatli serving up world beats

Internationally acclaimed band Ozomatli is well known for its pro-diversity activism and waking up people to human rights issues through their music. The six-piece band plays an upbeat fusion of Latin, hip-hop, funk and jazz music and is set to perform at the 28th Annual Foam Fest on Sept. 2.

Sept. 2 | 2-6 p.m. | $30
KT Base Bar | Olympic Valley

Ozomatli takes its name from the Aztec calendar. For the last 22 years, the band has shifted, evolved and grown, but remains true to its activist roots. Band members are passionate about making a difference in the world and have been outspoken about social justice and cultural issues, human rights and peace.

“Playing live for people and what it means to give the audience a musical experience is a constant inspiration.” – Ulises Bella

Saxophonist Ulises Bella has been with the band since its inception. The multi-talented Bella also plays clarinet, guitar, keyboards, the melodica — aka pianica, blow-organ, key harmonica or melodyhorn, a free-reed instrument similar to the harmonica and pump organ — and the requinto jarocho, a guitar-shaped, fretted, stringed Mexican folk instrument. He attributes the longevity of the band to commitment and the ability to evolve and grow as a group.

Watch the music video for “Come and Get Your Love”

“The reason we’ve lasted so long is due to how we view ourselves in a collective way, how we’ve distributed our money evenly and through our commitment and communication. We work out our differences and beefs with the band. And we’ve done a lot of teambuilding,” says Bella.

He says that the band members were all in their 20s when they started, so they have grown up together. He also attributes he writing process in keeping the band together for so long.

“We all share writing credit,” says Bella.

Ozomatli has served as cultural ambassadors and has traveled the world.

“We’ve played to 15,000 people in Mongolia and 10,000 people in Katmandu,” says Bella of some of the more unique locations in which the group has performed. Traveling the world has been beneficial.

Besame Mucho

“I’ve learned that the differences and separation with people in the world is illusionary. We have so much more in common with each other,” he says.

And while the state of politics and world events are an issue, playing live music and interacting with the audience also inspires Bella.

“Playing live for people and what it means to give the audience a musical experience is a constant inspiration,” says Bella.

“Nonstop: Mexico Jamaica” is Ozomatli’s new album and I think it is beautiful and joyful and so danceable.

“It’s a departure from our usual thing. It includes songs from Mexico, new and old — and some very popular. All the songs on the album are cover songs. We’ve rearranged and re-interpreted them in Jamaican styles working with legendary reggae producers Sly and Robbie,” says Bella.

Some of the cuts on the album include “La Bamba,” “Besame Mucho” and “Evil Ways.” The band also covers the 1974 hit “Come and Get Your Love” by Native American rock band Redbone. Their version of the song is upbeat, fun and re-imagined with a high-energy vibe.

What makes Ozomatli’s gig in Tahoe so significant is that the performance at Foam Fest, which benefits Achieve Tahoe, formerly Disabled Sports USA Far West. The nonprofit organization provides winter and summer sports instruction to adults and children with disabilities. Jason Smith, chief development officer of Achieve Tahoe, has a brother with Down syndrome, as does one of the band members of Ozomatli. Smith is impassioned about making a difference.

“We have year-round programs for people with disabilities, physical, sensory or intellectually. And want to reach out in the spirit of inclusion and unity,” says Smith.

The organization offers scholarships to low-income families with members who have disabilities.

Ozomatli headlines the event at KT Base Bar. Opening act Jaamal Tarkington will be spinning soul, reggae, ska vinyl and Flamenco guitarist Milton Merlos will be performing, as well. See Events calendar in this issue for details on Foam Fest.

For information, visit achievetahoe.org or ozomatli.com.


Priya Hutner
Priya Hutner is a writer, personal chef and meditation teacher. She writes feature articles about music, art, food and recreation. Priya loves to immerse in story. Whether jumping from a plane, eating obscure foods or hitting the Tahoe-Reno music scene, she is always up for adventure and experience. Having moved to the mountains from Sebastian, Fla., she embraces the Tahoe lifestyle and loves to ski, hike, paddle and swim. Priya is the owner of the Seasoned Sage, a business that prepares organic meals and facilitates workshops that promote a health-conscious lifestyle. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience living on an ashram and working on a series of cookbooks. | priya@tahoethisweek.com