Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Ozomatli

OZOMATLI. (Photo: Sandra Dahdah)
OZOMATLI. (Photo: Sandra Dahdah)

Raul Pacheco, guitarist and vocalist in the Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli, said that he and his bandmates went to group therapy “about ten years ago” in order to improve the band’s communication.

“We actually sat down with a therapist who helped us negotiate how to speak to one another,” Pacheco said. “Because music is a really personal thing and someone can say something as simple as ‘Hey, I don’t like your idea, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you as a person.’ But we’re so attached to our creative selves that it can seem that way.”

Pacheco, one of the founding members of the Ozomatli, likened the band to a marriage. If that’s an apt analogy, it’s been a successful marriage – the group has won three Grammy Awards, released ten records and have had its music featured throughout the media landscape.

The band, known for welcoming in a revolving door of guest musicians and displaying an eclectic musical palette, is wrapping up its 20 year anniversary. One of Ozomatli’s first shows in its 21st year will be played on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at The State Theatre.

At the show, the band will be playing songs from their new album, Ozo-fied: Volume 1 – A Century of Mexican Classics, which is due out in the early part of 2016. It’s a case study in Ozomatli’s ability to collaborate with outside musicians and create musical melanges.

They brought in legendary musicians and music producers Sly & Robbie to work on their new album, a collection of covers of Latin and American songs reimagined to have a reggae feel.

“It’s super cool. They’re all business. They just listen to a song and then boom – they play it,” Pacheco said. “And that’s cool. I think it’s kind of their approach when they’re just being hired as musicians, but we’re also seeing what kind of creative roles they’d want to play.

“There are some Jamaican artists that they want specifically for some of these songs. So a lot of these songs are going to be kind of like mashups. I think that’s kind of the concept.”

Justin Poree, who does percussion and raps for Ozomatli, came up with the concept for the record, which is still being recorded, and the rest of the group followed his lead. But the actual process of choosing a song to cover and figuring out how to re-imagine it is an organic process that the entire band is participating in.

“One of the few songs on the record that’s in English is called ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’….that song came out in the 60s,” Pacheco said. “There were a number of bands that covered that song, I think one of the most famous one was Wilson Pickett’s version. And there was also a band from east L.A. called Thee Midniters that did the song, so we were looking for different cultural connections.

“So with that song, we slowed it down, it’s like a one drop [rhythm] and it sounds really cool and as soon as we start playing [it] everyone knows the song and everyone starts singing along and it’s also referencing an old Sly & Robbie track.”

Ozomatli’s reverence for and representation of different cultures has been a hallmark of the band from the beginning. The group has also been socially and politically active since their inception – Ozomatli originally grew out of an attempt to form a workers union in Los Angeles.

When asked about federal plans to deport Central Americans who’ve come to the U.S. over the past two years, fleeing violence in their homelands, Pacheco spoke on behalf of the group, offering his and the band’s full support for the ability for people travel freely around the world.

“We also support the right of people to take action for their survival,” Pacheco said. “We really don’t think that people leave their homes from many parts of the world for the fun of it or with a keen eye on taking advantage of people. We think it’s because of survival and many of us, our friends and families, we know this for a fact.”

• For more information about Ozomatli, visit