Ozomatli with All-American Rejects , Hoobastank and Diffuser at the Docks (11 Polson), tonight (Thursday, October 2). $26.50. 416-461-3025.
While the Dixie Chicks controversy has left many politically outspoken artists choosing their words carefully when commenting on U.S. foreign policy, Ozomatli aren't keeping quiet. If anything, the current chill has just caused the socially active Los Angeles-based Latin jam band to step up their anti-war rhetoric. Ever since their Embrace The Chaos (Universal) album hit the streets on September 11, 2001, Ozomatli have been using performances to rail against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and put forth their platform of peace. And being dropped by Universal after their album scored a Latin Alternative Grammy hasn't stopped them either.
Their just-released six-track Coming Up (Concord/KOCH) EP shows them experimenting with Arabic sounds and textures on a live version of Cumbia De Los Muertos that features a brilliantly soaring clarinet solo by co-founding member Ulises Bella. Evidently, there's more to come on Ozomatli's forthcoming Street Signs album, which they'll be previewing tonight (Thursday, October 2) at the Docks.
"Music has always been a key to understanding and appreciating different cultures," says Bella from his Los Angeles home, "and with the problems of oppression our Arabic brothers and sisters are dealing with right here in America, we felt it was important for us to stand up and represent.
"There's a little Arabic flavour on the new EP, but it's really just a taste of what we're working on right now. We've got French Gypsy players doing some string parts, Hassan Hakmoun will be singing on a few tracks, and there's much more."
That includes a new set of songs that explicitly spell out their political views, however unpopular that may be with that segment of their audience who just enjoy Ozomatli's rhythmically propulsive party joints.
"Ozomatli has been against the foreign policies of the U.S. government since the beginning of this whole fiasco involving Afghanistan and Iraq, and at every show we continue to talk about how we feel about the war and occupation. The whole government is a disgrace, not just Bush but the entire administration all the way down.
"Of course there are always some people who come back and hit us with the whole treason angle, saying that we aren't supporting our troops. But in travelling around doing shows all over the world, I get the feeling that most people are against the war.
"And right now I think the American public is starting to see the real reasons why we went to Iraq and the whole hypocrisy of the situation."
It should be interesting to see how Ozomatli's views go down with their new label, Concord Records. The adult contemporary clearing house, co-owned by television iconoclast Norman Lear, is better known for the smooth jazz stylings of Dave Weckl, Diane Schuur, Chick Corea and John Patitucci than any sort of radical agitprop.
"We came into a meeting with the Concord people saying, 'You know, we've said some pretty crazy shit in the past,'" recalls Bella, "and so Norman Lear plays us this amazing spoken-word recording of an anti-war rant. That totally bugged us out.
"He's actually a very down-to-earth guy who loves the band and understands what we're doing. So we're definitely on the same page."