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Ozomatli Reflects the World

California has 33 million residents, making it America’s largest state in population. With growth has come change… especially to California’s cultural identity in the state’s largest city, Los Angeles.

Immigrants from all over the world have blended into a multi-racial community of startling diversity. As one example, VOA’s George Dwyer introduces us to a group of young artists from Los Angeles who are leading a new wave of cosmopolitan music.


“When we say ‘Ozo,’ you say ‘Matli.’ ” (crowd responds: ‘Ozo-Matli!’)

They call themselves “Ozomatli,” a name from ancient Aztec Indian myth. Their sound comes from the diverse musical expressions heard all across Los Angeles today.

Bass guitarist Wil-Dog Abers.


“I grew up around a lot of Latinos, African-Americans, Armenians, Filipinos, and going to different people’s houses for dinner sometimes gets you exposed to different types of music and different food and you know, there's really no place like L.A.”


Afro-Latin rhythms inform much of Ozomatli's repertoire but the band has been relentless in its quest to draw on traditional music from the widest possible variety of sources.


“Traditional music could mean anything, you know, it could mean hip-hop music, it can be funk, salsa, reggae … and so whatever music we attempt to do we try to learn the roots of it as much as we can.

There's a sense in this band that there's always an eagerness to learn more; people are fascinated with learning more about music, and it shows in what we do cause we all are able to learn from each other.”


Ozomatli's defining characteristic may be its insistence on getting things right, as they call it. Respecting the traditions they borrow from. Astrubal Sierra is lead singer, and plays trumpet in the band.



“We try to do our best to learn enough about it to not make it sound cheesy, or make it sound imitated rather than interpreted, you know? We try and do our best to learn enough of the rules and about the culture and the music so that we don't insult anybody, you know?”

Just like the band itself, Ozomatli's fans are an eclectic lot.


“When you look at our audience from the stage, you see all different types of people. You'll see a person with a Mohawk next to a person with a guayabera [a lightweight shirt designed to be worn untucked] next to a person with dreadlocks, whatever, and it all fits who we are.”


Asbrubal says he thinks both the band, and their followers, are on a journey of discovery.


“You learn a lot about the people through their music…

As much as there are different people in this world, billions, zillions, whatever you want to call it, there are that many different point of views.”

Ozomatli believes those myriad points of view can and should be shared through music.