Most of the bands playing SXSW 2013 are probably going to play about five shows during their time in Austin. Ozomatli are playing five in one day. Founded in 1995, Ozomatli’s multicultural blend of Latin, funk, reggae, and hip hop (among other things) has made them cultural ambassadors on a number of levels. In one sense, they’re one of the last decade’s most successful multicultural musical acts, headlining the Hollywood Bowl three times, toured the world multiple times over, and taking part in the world’s first musical TED Talk. In a more literal sense, the band has been invited by the U.S. State Department to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a number of international tours. So when the band makes their fourth stop of their whirlwind appearance at SXSW 2013 at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, the Los Angeles septet are bringing more than just the sounds of Los Angeles with them to close out KEXP’s SXSW broadcast.
What makes Ozomatli so special is exactly that – they are ambassadors, and when you see them live, they make you feel welcomed no matter what your background. Do you speak Spanish? Who cares, the saxophone and trumpet speak loud and clear. Don’t know their lyrics? What can be simpler than the command “jump, jump, jump” from their opening number? At every moment, the band is engaging its audience, leading hand-claps and making us all a part of the family. With seven members on stage, rotating between keyboards, guitar, percussion, horns, and vocals (even a hooter was brought out), you get the sense of their immense talent and commitment to their craft. Only the bass player did not relinquish his instrument throughout the set. Their expansive palate of styles makes every song sound fresh compared the last, pulling in SXSW passersby with their magnetic appeal. If there is any complaint about the Ozomalti set, it was it was just too darn short. But they certainly put a high-energy capstone onto four days of relentless broadcasting by KEXP at Mellow Johnny’s.