Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ozomatli @ Royal Festival Hall

8 February 2002

Why do they have to have such a long name? I can’t remember it! No, seriously: the amount of times I’ve told people that they MUST see ‘Ozo..Ozi..Ozzzaas……. whatever…’. Truth is, I’d never heard of Ozomatli until a critic made the minimalistic claim that “Ozomatli are the best live band in the world”.

So I phoned the booking office that very second, got a wonderful third row seat, and waited in anticipation all day for that holy grail of music performances, the trophy all bands and producers search for, the promised land of pop: a good gig. When, on exiting a gig, one can truly say that no amount of sick-spluttering, drunk revellers could have spoilt the proceedings on stage.

Well, Ozomatli were fucking brilliant. Excuse the language. But they were.

Ozomatli are an LA-based 10-piece who fuse jazz with rap and soul with blues. The performers include a DJ, four percussionists (some of whom were using traditional Indian/African drums), a bassist, a guitarist, three brass/wind players, two rappers and a singer. Their playing of their various instruments was second to none. Not one of them would have been out of place playing at Ronnie Scott’s and their solos did them proud. Their playing of their own – and each other’s – instruments was tight, nay, faultless.

Their set started with the band entering from the royal box, through the audience, and onto the stage, while laying out percussion rhythms on a packed Festival Hall. The next hour and a half had the band playing and singing beautiful cuban jazz, street-rapping and absolutely delighting the audience.

Three things stuck out during the gig. Firstly, their immense talent shined through in wonderfully memorable songs. Secondly, the band finished their gig by leading a conga line into the audience, out the exit, and continuing with an impromptu performance in the foyer with at least a thousand people crowding around them. Thirdly, the stage being stormed by over 100 audience members dancing hand in hand to latin jazz.

And when I saw a group of 70-year-old plus OAPs swinging their hips next to a young couple on ecstasy, who were a row behind a group of kids boogying away, I realised that this band had achieved a universal following from all walks, ages, and nationalities. I think in those two hours we made a stopover to musical heaven.

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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