Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ozomatli @ Jazz Cafe, London

9 July 2007

You have to feel sorry for Ozomatli. They are absolutely not responsible for the fact that this will be a less than glowing review. In fact, if there was an award for tenacity in the face of adversity, then they’d be pretty close to the front of the queue.

But when God created Ozomatli (or perhaps more accurately when Ozomatli, the Aztec God of dance, fire and music, created Ozomatli), He didn’t create them to play indoors on a grey, rainy, miserable day in Camden. He didn’t create them to play in a venue that was packed so way past sensible capacity that it was physically impossible to move, let alone dance.

And He certainly didn’t create them to play to a bunch of braying Islington trustafarian trainee accountants who think the height of wackiness is to take an overhead photo of themselves and their braying Islington trustafarian friends in the crowd using a digital camera held at arms’ length while reminiscing loudly about their gap year travels in Mexico and Peru.

Ozomatli, a nine-piece Latin jazz/funk/hip-hop/salsa fusion band from LA, were created to play outdoors, on bright sunny days, to crowds who have the room to dance freely, loosely and enthusiastically. When they do, the show they put on is brilliant. I’ve seen it, enjoyed it and regret that my memory of it has now been tainted by this debacle.

Not that the braying trustafarians didn’t try their best to put their arms in the air when encouraged to, of course. Unfortunately, they were too densely packed together to be able to manage it (although Ozomatli’s observation of “aren’t you all well behaved!” was also deathly accurate).

The lads from Los Angeles did their very best to overcome this and, despite the fact that they had no more room to move on the tiny stage than the audience did in front of it, they mostly pulled it off. Most of the time, they even pulled it off without whacking any of the audience in the face with the trombone, which was no mean feat on its own.

Opening on City of Angels from recent album Don’t Mess With The Dragon, they offered up what could have been a great set of new material, older material and a cover of Lily Allen’s Smile all with boundless enthusiasm if not slight bemusement. They even had the decency to wait until a good half an hour into the set before they started banging on about George W. Bush and Hurricane Katrina, bless ’em.

By that stage, however, your intrepid reviewer had retreated to the air-conditioned bar, where, for future reference, you can still get a half-decent view of the band as well as a cold, lime-infested South American beer. And you don’t get elbowed in the neck by Justin the management consultant as he tries to punch the air with comedy street moves and shout ‘right orn!’ to the Bush-bashing from the stage, which is definitely an advantage.

In conclusion: band good, venue rubbish and far too packed. Not Ozomatli’s fault. And in the words of Milton Caniff, while I might disagree with what they say, I would defend to the death their right to say it. Now, if only they were playing Benicassim …

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