Jiro Yamaguchi--tabla, percussion, vocals
Justin El Nino Poree-conga
Ulises Bella-sax, vocals
Wil-dog Abers-bass, vocals
Raul Pacheco-guitar, vocals
Ozomatli was still a fairly new crew when they performed this set at Mountain Aire in 1998: The band had not yet released its self-titled debut album, though they had been busy making a name for themselves around southern California as a red hot band with a strong point of view. Specializing in self-described "music without boundaries—just music," Ozomatli are named for the Aztec astrological symbol for the monkey and the God of Dance, so you can bet that when they're in the house, the room moves.
Forming within and around the immigrants' rights/social justice scene in San Diego and Los Angeles, Ozomatli is pretty much the go-to act when social protest is on the menu in the Southland. But it's their party-on groove and one-love spirit that make them a favorite not only regionally but throughout the politically aware, multi-cultural listening audience. Blending jazz and funk with Latin and hip-hop beats par excellence, it didn't take long at all for Ozo's deft blend of styles to catch the ear of Carlos Santana who took them on his Supernatural tour. Since then, Ozomatli has grown its music and its message, but its concerns of police brutality and racial profiling remain as resonant in the present as they were when they joined against those causes in 1998. And while early members Chali 2na and Cut Chemist would go on to find success in the group Jurassic Five, Ozomatli has dropped four albums following their departure, including 2010's Fire Away.
During this Latin-inspired set from '98, you might hear some old school Cuban styles merged with merengue beats of Dominican Republic and some smoky Jamaican reggae jams. Opening with "Como Ves," Ozomatli set the tone with a call to dance, whether to the rasta-infused "Cumbia de los Muertos" or the rap-inspired "Coming War," which is Chali 2Na's big moment on the mic. Whatever they're jamming, the common denominator to every tune is dance—in the words of Ozo, "it's monkey time." And you'd better believe it, because the "funky monkey" god, Ozomatli, tells no lies.