Downtown Bend will celebrate Cinco de Mayo in style Thursday as L.A. fusionistas Ozomatli headline a free outdoor celebration on Wall Street. My conversation with band co-founder Ulises Bella focused more on Ozo’s world travels than its music.
But it’s the band’s role as U.S. Department of State-designated Cultural Ambassadors that sparks a fire in Bella. When he talks about Ozomatli’s music, he sounds excited. When he talks about its overseas work, he sounds inspired.
Since 2007, the band has traveled to Nepal, India, Myanmar, Madagascar, Jordan, Tunisia, South Africa, Egypt, Mongolia and China on official government business, playing free public concerts, conducting workshops and doing community outreach in, as Bella puts it, “places no bands go to.”
To wit: Last summer, Ozomatli performed for thousands of people in a public square in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. They were the first Western band to play there. Ever.
“We feel like some pioneers. Like, yo, we’re gonna go into this country and … maybe a handful of people might know who we are,” Bella said. “In a weird way, it’s a great litmus test for letting the music stand on its own.
“In a lot of ways, there’s something in our music, especially rhythmically, that you can latch onto and be like, ‘Hey, I kind of know this. This kind of seems familiar to me,’” he continued. “We start playing and immediately the reaction is for the most part overwhelmingly positive.”
Bellas was great interview. I hope you’ll click here to read the whole thing.
Elsewhere in this week’s jam-packed music section, we’ve got short stories on Cash’d Out and The Staxx Brothers, plus The Northstar Session, Mad Rad, The Anvil Blasters, Sara Jackson-Holman, Super Adventure Club, Brandi Carlile, Floater, Tony Smiley and Marv Ellis, the Acorn Project and more.