Last year, the city of Los Angeles recognized what thousands of Angelinos already knew: That Ozomatli has become more than just another L.A. band, but perhaps the city's de facto house band - combining L.A.'s wide range of cultural and social influences into a sound that's as good of a soundtrack to real life in the city of angels as anyone is likely to find. This is why the city declared April 23 Ozomatli Day.
So what do you get for being one of the founding members of a band with its own day recognized by one of the largest cities in the world?
Well, not much, but it feels good.
"I wish you could cash it in somehow when I get traffic tickets. It's like, 'Man, I have my own day.' You'd think we could at least get some free burritos or something," jokes saxophonist Uli Bella, "But it's huge, you know, to be recognized that way by your own city."
Since its inception in 1995, Ozomatli's expansive appeal - their fans range from hip-hop heads to older Latin music fans to young children - has given the band a sort of omnipresent existence in L.A. A walk through certain neighborhoods of the city will almost certainly reveal more than few of the band's well-recognized logos stenciled on the pavement, evidence of Ozomatli's from-the-ground-up marketing philosophy.
L.A. is proud of this band, which is part of the reason they've appeared on the Coachella music festival lineup more than any other band. This year, they took to the stage in the hot afternoon desert sun to warm the stage for what would turn out to be a semi-disastrous Cee-Lo Green set. And Ozomatli did so in polyester leisure suits, because, well, they wanted to do something different, even if the wardrobe may have not been the best choice for the heat.
"When you sweat in those things, it's just rank," says Bella, checking in from his Los Angeles home on a break between weekend tours and festival appearances.
The band has made itself a mainstay of the festival scene, playing all the namebrand mega fests like Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot, Sasquatch and the aforementioned Coachella where their loyal fans get down in front of the stage, and are soon joined by legions of converts drawn to Ozomatli's eclectic, high-energy, cross-cultural sonic mashups. In a way, they're bringing the sounds of Los Angeles' collection of cultures, including Latin influences like salsa, but giving them a hip-hop and rock treatment that's ripe with horns, big beats and plenty of other dance-encouraging accoutrements.
Bella says the band is constantly aware they've become musical ambassadors for a wide range of sounds that is rarely heard in the mainstream, but doesn't think Ozomatli's mission is to spread these styles to the uninitiated. What they really want to do - and have been doing for the past 16 years - is throw a solid party.
"Our first thing is to have people get up and dance and if people want to investigate it after the fact, that's fine. Anything that anyone takes away from it is fine," says Bella.
Another group that Ozomatli - somewhat unexpectedly - has gotten dancing is kids. While the band's support of music education programs in L.A. schools and their appearances at orphanages and youth detention centers is well known, they recently reached out to an even younger set with the OzoKidz concerts that saw the Ozomatli show revamped with a few silly characters and songs for the kids, but maintained the high level of musicality that the parents can enjoy. This summer, the band is releasing a full album of children's songs to complement the live shows.
"Interacting with kids isn't foreign to me. I dig them and I dig their energy," says Bella, "You see a lot of potential in a child's eyes. When they're rocking, they have no inhibitions, they just groove."
There will be no shortage of grooving on Thursday, May 5, when Ozomatli joins fellow genre mashers Rubblebucket for a massive street festival to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. And it seems that Bella and his band - which includes several Hispanic members and plenty of Latin sounds - would be a perfect fit for such a celebration, right? Well, sort of.
"Cinco de Mayo is a weird way to present culture. It's the Mexican St. Patty's Day - it's not even celebrated in Mexico. It's not the main day for Mexicans, but it's funny that it's turned itself into an American holiday to go out and drink," says Bella.
For a band known for it's socially conscious approach to lyrics and community outreach, it seems like Bella might launch into a lecture at this point. But he doesn't. He laughs it off, and gets back to the point.
"But whatever, I'm just going to get up there and rock it to give people a good time," he says. Then, at the end of our conversation, he makes a few more Cino de Mayo jokes and is still laughing when he hangs up the phone.
Because hey, it's just Cinco de Mayo. It's no Ozomatli Day.
Amalia's Cinco de Mayo Party, featuring: Ozomatli, Rubblebucket, Todd Haaby and Sola Via
4:30pm-10pm, Thursday, May 5. On Wall Street in downtown Bend. Free,