Ozomatli & Cultura Londres @ Shepherds Bush Empire 13 April 2007

14 Apr

It wasn’t a surprise to see that a queue, made up of the old and young alike, had wrapped itself around Shepherds Bush Empire long before the Ozomatli show on Friday night. The band draws upon musical heritages and cultures from across the globe- striking a chord with people of all ages and backgrounds. Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Ozomatli are a musical representation of the hybridization of cultural identity in LA. Mixing and layering musical traditions, Ozomatli has a global sound that was able to identify with an audience made up of an equally global background.

A local hip hop group, Cultura Londres, opened up the show with a South American vibe. True to their “old school hip hop” foundation, the group had a DJ mixing and scratching, sampling tracks live. Complementing the DJ, Cultura Londres featured the talents of Tiago as MC and Angelita Jimenez.

Drawing from the rich cultural heritage of South America, where Tiago and Angelita were both raised, Cultura Londres referenced common musical forms performed in that region and mixed them into their performance. The incorporation of Capoeira in their set was an interesting idea and helped to establish a sense of authenticity to their music, linking their music to the martial art and greater culture of Brazil and South America. At first the use of the martial art onstage caught me off guard; but as a musician and martial artist myself, the expression onstage came through as a reinvention of the roda.

The Cultura Londres set could have been more- the group has a lot of potential, but their set as a whole left me wanting more. The musical flow from song to song didn’t quite work and the energy onstage seemed to fizzle out before it could reach the audience. However, when the DJ sampled an anthem, the audience picked up and sang along with the MC. But that was nothing in comparison to what Ozomatli would incite from the audience.

Enter Ozomatli, a heavy mix of musical fusion. Taking Latin rhythms, funk and jazz riffs, salsa melodies, reggae, rap, and hip hop energy, the group layers its musical elements into politically charged, danceable songs that connect with both new and old fans. Their music is a hybridization of the musical traditions that can be traced to the far corners of the world.

While there is a strong African influence in their rhythmic preferences and choreography, many of their songs are in Spanish. This reflects the singer’s heritage as well as California’s culture a s a whole where there is a considerable Hispanic population. The language barrier didn’t seem to detract from the performance. In fact, the audience at sang along and learned songs from the forthcoming album.  Audience interaction was key to the Ozomatli performance and infused their music with instant credibility.

The Ozomatli set tied into the Cultura Londres performance by drawing upon the musical heritage and culture of South America. Both acts sang songs in Spanish and used adapted rhythms and melodies. Both performances also made use of choreography to complement the music. However, the most memorable event from the night was the closing Ozomatli song, where they took on the appearance of a Brazilian batteria with the addition of a trombone. Disappearing into the audience, Ozomatli processed through the crowd, repeating a rythmic phrase, and bringing the entire audience into the performance, ending the night with a bang.

In contrast to the Cultura Londres set, Ozomatli proved that they are veterans of live performance. Inviting the audience to sing along and creating a dynamic dialogue, not just between performers onstage, but including and literally mixing with the crowd, Ozomatli delivered a brilliant show.

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