The group formed last decade around L.A.'s then-vibrant downtown art scene. Its live shows were notorious, often ending on the streets outside whatever venue it was playing in wild drumming and singing breakdowns reminiscent of the funkiest Mardi Gras Indian practice. In the years since, the band has managed to retain the raw energy that marked its genesis and hone its sound, releasing one live and four studio albums.
A true pop group for a multicultural millennium that's both beautiful and confounding, Ozomatli's music reflects its polyglot Southern California heritage. It sounds like one radio receiving five stations at once, and it's reconciled that confusion into a coherent, joyfully contradictory whole. On the latest studio record, Don't Mess With the Dragon, it's hard not to be impressed at how the band squeezes in a little bit of almost every facet of L.A. music culture some Whittier Boulevard oldies, Crenshaw hip-hop and Echo Park mariachi brass into a single song and makes it sound seamless and natural, evoking the almost sweet ozone-and-diesel tang of a hazy Southern California afternoon.
At Jazz Fest, Ozomatli reunites with original member Chali 2na, the bass-voiced MC who rose to fame as a member of the hip-hop group Jurassic 5.