Los Angeles band Ozomatli took their name from the Aztec God of Dance, and for the past 15 years this multi-racial seven-piece collective has always incited us to shake it. Their music is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mix of rhythms, like hip-hop, salsa, cumbia, dancehall, rock and ragga. And as U.S. cultural ambassadors since 2007, that we-are-the-world sensibility has only expanded. They’ve visited Tunisia, India, Jordan, Nepal and other far-flung destinations, where they’ve performed and learned a thing or two along the way.
That should be evident in the globetrotters’ fifth album, Fire Away (out April 20; Mercer Street Records). For producer Tony Berg (Aimee Mann, Pete Yorn), working with Ozomatli was “like visiting seven continents simultaneously.” The songs are said to be thoughtful, timely and occasionally political, which is what we’d expect from these guys. For example, “Gay Vatos in Love” is about legalizing same sex unions and “Malagasy Shock” is about a power surge that nearly electrocuted vocalist Raul Pacheco during a concert in Madagascar.
Today, they’re off to play at the TED conference, an event meant to enlighten and inspire. Other speakers and performers on the bill include director James Cameron, philanthropist Bill Gates and comedian Sarah Silverman. It’s a meeting of the minds, and Ozomatli has plenty to say.