One Nation Under a Groove

These rich identities carry into their songs -- sonic salads and highly danceable mutt music from the underdogs of the global economy. The flamenco-flavored "Eva" lays a hip-hop beat under a furious jarocho strum and features Bella and trumpeter Asdru Sierra in alternating bebop and Latin horn melodies. "La Misma Canción" fuels a wiseacre ranchero with amphetamine ska. "Cumbia de los Muertos," Wil-Dog's proclaimed favorite, combines the Colombian two-step cumbia with a dub reggae riff. The Spanish lyrics evoke the Day of the Dead mythos: "Here there is no sadness ... in this dance of the loved ones of the past." A verse later the MC turns the mystical spirits into a politicized body count: "Soon as we're rid of society's small terrors/The sooner these teenagers don't have to be pallbearers."

Politics also infuses the band's work, from the album and perennial concert-opener "Como Ves" (which declares, "History is not what you think") to "Chango," an anti-police-brutality riff with revolutionary sentiments: "We who gave [the police] authority can also take it away." Ozomatli played for 35,000 at a United Farm Workers rally, before immigrant strawberry pickers, Chicano youth, and middle-age unionists alike; its sets include "Aqui No Sera," a protest song about the U.S.-backed bombing of El Salvador. Still the group's lyrics celebrate unity more often than they implicate specific oppressors. Although born into struggle and unflinching in their public support of causes like the Zapatista rebels in Mexico, members of the band balk at advocacy in their lyrics.

For now Wil-Dog is frank about these limits: "There's not just one dogma that we can stick by. We're not just about one thing." Nonetheless he believes firmly that Ozomatli can inspire a movement of the questioning spirit that led to the emergency rescue unit work stoppage. The band fosters a cultural resistance against police surveillance and youth harassment. Ozo has signed to the Mumia 911 event, a national day of protest to stop the execution of radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose trial is widely considered tainted. Wil-Dog has tried to organize groups beyond the usual-suspects list of Rage Against the Machine and friends; he's already signed Isaac Hayes and mainstream ska goofballs Reel Big Fish, and is waiting for the opportunity to recruit Santana when the two groups share a stage later this summer.

To a great extent Ozomatli's ethnosonic diversity is its strongest political asset. The United States perpetually stands between race-riot and coalition politics, and the funk smoothies of mixmastered cultures keep tension at bay much better than flag waving or genre purity. The fact that eleven cats from so many different barrios can get together and produce an ecstatic rump-shaking triumph that crosses continents and generations testifies loudly to Rodney King's utopia. Yes, we can all get along. In fact the many can do it better than the few.

Ozomatli performs at 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, at the Cameo Theatre, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Also appearing are Argentina's Bersuit, Mexico's Control Machete, and Puerto Rico's El Manjar de los Dioses. Tickets are $15. Call 305-532-0922 for more information.

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