Rhythm & Views


The danger with musicians going multi-culti is that sometimes all those colorful tastes, while so beguiling on their own, can blend together and cancel each other out. The result can end up as bland as white bread and butter. Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli avoids this trap on their third, full-length disc, Street Signs, by refusing to homogenize the ingredients on its diverse menu of sounds.

The Latin hip-hop band's previous album was released Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks on that date and world events since have inspired the band to further explore their commitment to social justice, progressive politics and anti-war sentiments.

Witness the potentially controversial track "(Who Discovered) America?" On this infectious meeting of salsa and urban music, singer Raúl Pacheco makes the pursuit of a beautiful, unattainable woman a metaphor for manifest destiny, conflating imperialism and sexist patriarchy.

On their latest album, many of Ozomatli's songs feature a new, Middle Eastern tinge, such as the opening track "Believe," a heartfelt declaration that a better, more peaceful world is still possible. Framed by a dramatic string arrangement, which sounds like a sirocco wind sweeping out of North Africa, this tune works a fierce dance-club groove and incorporates a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sample.

The band's former DJ, Chali 2na (now of Jurassic 5), takes control of the mike on "Who's to Blame," addressing global politics and violence against a trance-like rhythm that calls to mind Moroccan gnawa music.

Among the record's special guests are Latin-jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri, the French Jewish band Les Yeux Noirs, Los Lobos singer-guitarist David Hidalgo, the Prague Symphony, Moroccan music legend Hassan Hakmoun and Ozomatli's original DJ, Cut Chemist. Allowing these collaborators to maintain their musical integrity goes a long way toward keeping it real.

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