Album Reviews

Ozomatli – Street Signs

(real world) UK release date: 21 June 2004

Socio-political Latin hip-hoppers Ozomatli are already Glastonbury veterans, and as they release their latest effort Street Signs, the multi racial, multi genre crew could just be set to go multi platinum.

How so, you might ask, for a band whose language of choice often isn’t English? The answer lies in their intelligent blend of gifted musicianship and unrelenting lyrical assault on the senses. This is conveyed with such conviction that particulars like language are merely a mean to an end. Rap vocals layered on top of explosive pumping Latin tracks provide the soundtrack for today’s more informed socially conscious listener. If you don’t have a passion for social justice and integrity, this album alone will be enough to aid you in discovering fervour for all that is honest.

Music is the weapon of choice for these activists who, rather than spending song time on bling-bling and ghetto fabulous lifestyles, prefer to pen dittys such as Love And Hope and the poignant Who’s to Blame which offers a probing look into the escalating problem of terrorism and unrest.

The music on this their third album has taken a decidedly Middle Eastern turn, producing some brilliant melodies, highlighted on opener Believe, which fuses a gritty African backing with alternating Spanish/English vocals (which is nice for all us non bi-lingual fans!) and, bizarrely, the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

Love And Hope is a highlight, and avoids the obvious cheesy clich�s, despite a chorus of “love and hope never die”. An obvious single, it will surely catch a very universal audience, and offers some welcome relief from other politically fuelled group who endlessly rant about problems without offering any optimism. Title track Street Signs is firmly back in Latin territory, not too far away from the Buena Vista Social Club in timbre, well, until the MC vocals drop in.

With four vocalists and two MCs, there is constant variation and diversity throughout not only the album, but within individual songs as well, such as America which provides a soft, sung vocal chorus, blaring trumpets and a wailing guitar solo. The album has a strong contingent of Spanish numbers, which may be lyrically over my head, but I can vouch with confidence for the fact that the music rocks!

A treat for devoted fans occurs on Who’s To Blame, as founding member and vocalist Chali 2na (now of Jurassic 5) returns to guest on vocals, producing one of the most challenging and direct songs on the album. Saturday Night starts an all out rock number, before diving into some serious Latin funk to form a track that is screaming out for some Joss Stone wailing, scratched all over by DJ Spinobi. Be sure to listen out for this one blasting out of summer radio shows across the land.

For a band whose website is host to an activism forum, with random rants about evil global coffee giants and unanimous support for Michael Moore, the possibilities of falling into typical ‘anti-capitalist’ riff raff are strong. However, with their truly unique and infectious style, the ethnic sextet defy any stereotyping and will challenge your worldview while providing you with a scorching soundtrack.

buy Ozomatli MP3s or CDs
Spotify Ozomatli on Spotify

More on Ozomatli
Ozomatli – Don’t Mess With the Dragon
Ozomatli @ Jazz Cafe, London
Ozomatli – Street Signs
Ozomatli @ Royal Festival Hall