October 14, 2004

Ozomatli Explodes with Energy Onstage
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

One could waste plenty of hyphens trying to describe Ozomatli's sound: Hispanic funk-rock-rap with salsa-merengue roots and punk-rock energy. Describing Ozomatli's live performance needs far fewer words: remarkable.

The Los Angeles-based 10-man collective brought a contagious energy to The Paradise Rock Club on Tuesday night and maintained complete control of the ecstatic crowd throughout the two-and-a-half hour show, which featured an uninterrupted flow of songs from the group's self-titled debut and its newest release, Street Signs.

The band's rowdy cacophony of horns and percussion inspired excited dancing from everyone in the crowd. The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves more than the screaming crowd were the ebullient performers onstage who jumped and screamed with a seemingly ceaseless supply of energy.

With a dozen multi-ethnic musicians onstage, Ozomatli is truly an international orchestra in which timbales, turntables, and trumpets come together for a free-wheeling party of rhythm and horns. The performance featured solos from nearly every member, including the dirtiest clarinet solo Boston has heard since Benny Goodman.

Ozomatli also features two emcees, Justin Poree and Jabu Smith-Freeman, who throw poltically-conscious verses on top of the polyrhythmic percussion of drummers Jiro Yamaguchi and Mario Calire.

The rest of the band, when not performing, chips in with additional percussion by banging away at anything they can hit with a communal set of drum sticks circulating on stage.

In an interview following the concert, Yamaguchi told me, "Playing in Boston is fun because the crowd is full of college students who are trying to have a good time. As for us, we always have a good time."

The highlight of the evening came with a guest appearance from trumpet genius Tony Lujan, who dazzled the crowd as he was accompanied by mariachi guitar played by Raul Pachecho [ed. note: a fellow Thacher alum] and scratching from turntablist Rene "Spinobi" Dominguez.

Without any single leader, Ozomatli is truly an ensemble of superb musical talent who know how to rock a crowd. It would be nearly impossible to avoid catching the infectious energy that literally comes down from the stage as the members of Ozomatli descend into the crowd for a conga line that ends each of their shows.

After the band's conga line at the South by Southwest Music Festival last year ended with two members in jail for a noise ordinance violation, Ozomatli kept this rowdy party indoors.

The only thing better than Tuesday night's show would be seeing former members Chali 2na and DJ Cut Chemist (now of Jurassic 5) performing with their old crew. Nevertheless, any fan of live music should never miss an opportunity to see Ozomatli perform.
Best duo in hip-hop
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Six years after Mos Def and Talib Kweli rightfully declared themselves "the best alliance in hip-hop," the pair has finally returned. Unfortunately the dynamic duo isn't releasing a sequel to Blackstar, but instead separate solo albums from each emcee. Since Mos and Talib parted ways their careers have headed in decidedly different directions.

Mos Def, recently nominated for an Emmy, has been focusing on his burgeoning film career, acting on Broadway and starring as Ford Perfect in the upcoming film adaptation of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In contrast, Kweli has remained on tour and in the studio, earning himself the respect of even Jay-Z, who rapped "Truth be told/ if lyrics sold/ I'd be lyrically Talib Kweli."


Mos Def "My Life"
Hip-hop heads are bitter about being forced to wait half a decade for the follow-up to Mos Def's classic debut Black on Both Sides. We expected the second coming of Christ with his recently released The New Danger, but sadly it's nothing more than a very enjoyable album that could have been better.

The vast majority of Mos Def's musical ventures since his last album have been live performances with his rock band, the Black Jack Johnson, who appear throughout the new album. As a result, for better or for worse, The New Danger sounds more like a live show than a studio creation. The music is diverse and intriguing, but unfortunately Mos Def doesn't shine lyrically as he has in the past. In fact, he eschews rapping altogether for much of the album, instead acting as lead singer and even background vocalist for his band. Nevertheless, the album is entirely enjoyable from beginning to end, though hopefully we won't have to wait until 2009 for the next one.


Talib Kweli "Beautiful Struggle"
Instead of wandering all over the musical galaxy like Mos, Talib Kweli has stuck to what he does best. Kweli isn't a charismatic crooner like Mos, but he is smart and talented emcee dedicated to sharp lyricism. While Mos was busy hosting Def Jam Poetry on HBO, Kweli released his solo debut, Quality, which earned the respect of the underground while slowly catching the attention of the mainstream.

The Kanye West-produced single "Get By" got heavy radio rotation, which apparently inspired Talib to try to reproduce his MTV success on his new album with the almost-identical single "I Try."

Beyond this, Beautiful Struggle is a very solid album, nothing more but certainly nothing less than what fans expect from Kweli. The album also marks the return of former collaborator Hi-Tek, who produced Talib's classic Reflection Eternal back when Rawkus Records, now bankrupt, was the best underground record label in hip-hop.