Ozomatli brings blend of musical cultures to mountain’s free concert

Ozomatli will play a free concert on the mountain at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Courtesy photo

This weekend’s free concert at the mountain will see the Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli take the stage at Steamboat Square. Following the Big Air event, the band will wow spectators with their unique blend of musical styles which they’ve worked to create since they formed in the mid-1990s.

Explore Steamboat caught up with saxophonist Ulises Bella who is one of the original six members of the band.

Explore Steamboat: You guys have been together for a long time. How did it all start?

Ulises Bella: The initial spark that kind of got us together was that our bass player Wil-Dog was a part of this community center called the Peace and Justice Center. It catered to musicians, poets, artists, dancers — mostly in inner-city Los Angeles. Every weekend they would do parties to help raise money for it. Wil-Dog reached out to friends and asked them if they were interested in jamming out and the people who showed up were really the foundation of the band.

If you go

What: Make It Count Free Concert powered by Jack Daniels presents Ozomatli

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steamboat Square at Steamboat Resort

Cost: Free

ES: How would you describe your sound?

UB: Our sound is a gumbo of musical style that represents LA and the world. We started in LA so our influences were based on us growing up here and what we all listened to: hip-hop, Latin, reggae and funk. I always say that the sound of Ozo is all the cars cruising Sunset Boulevard with their windows down and all the different music that you hear coming out of each car. It’s that crazy blend that you find.

ES: Has that sound changed over the past nearly three decades of being together?

UB: Once we started touring the country and the world, we started incorporating other sounds that weren’t ours — North African music, for example. Traveling and touring exposed us to music that we never would have been exposed to. Between that and everyone’s personal lives and where they’re at in them, that influenced our sound throughout the years. It’s crazy to think that we’re still a band after all these years, still creating music.

ES: As a band you are known as advocates for many causes — how do you tie that into your music?

UB: Since the beginning, we’ve always been into lending our presence and our music to causes that we felt were important like immigration rights, women’s rights, anti-police brutality. … Certain things have stayed the same and certain things have changed, but we’ve always been open to hearing what’s new and what’s going on and learning about what we can do to help out. Lately, it’s music education. Lots of art funding has been cut in schools so we’re involved in a few different programs. One program created a recording studio on a bus and it would drive around to low-income communities and park at local parks and allow kids to come on board and make their own music, whatever they wanted. Stuff like that is always on our radar.

ES: Ozomatli has performed all around the world — do you have a favorite place?

UB: One of the most beautiful places was an old amphitheater in Jordan. It was amazing. If you stood in this one spot, you didn’t even need amplification; the natural acoustics did it for you. Japan is great too — the way artists and bands are treated there is always spectacular. In the U.S., Red Rocks is probably the coolest place to play.

ES: What can we expect for your show this weekend?

UB: A lot of energy and us trying to catch our breath. Going from sea level all the way up there is always a challenge. But the music will get you dancing and we’re going to play some of our new material, too.

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