Ozomatli inspires students prior to performance
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – There’s a whole world outside the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Take it from Ozomatli.
The Grammy Award-winning band, whose music ranges from hip-hop to salsa to funk, took time out from their sound check at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa Saturday night to talk with about two dozen students from Generation Green and the HOPE Club.
Generation Green is a leadership program for undeserved youth organized though the U.S. Forest Service and the HOPE Club is a group at Lake Tahoe Community College that helps Hispanic students in their pursuit of higher education.
Questions from the students led to discussions on the roots of artistic expression, how the band stayed together for 15 years and the DREAM Act, but the band mostly encouraged the students to find common ground, strive for goals and not be afraid to explore unfamiliar terrain.
“You can always come back here,” said bass player Wil-Dog Abers. “You can always leave, it will always be here.”
“The possibility and potential is endless to discover the world,” added saxophone player Ulises Bella. “If you have the opportunity, take it.”
Adrian Escobedo, the forest civil rights officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit leading the group, said many of the students face cultural pressure to stay at home, even when it comes to pursuing higher education.
Sometimes it takes a “fresh face” to reach kids who’ve heard the same message from teachers or mentors. Escobedo arranged the student’s meeting with the band, who he met during previous employment at the House of Blues Anaheim.
Ozomatli has served as official Cultural Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department and guitar player Raul Pacheco said they often find themselves speaking to groups about their experience as a band, as well as growing up as “hood kids” in Los Angeles.
“This was us 20 years ago,” said lead singer Asdru Sierra, about meeting the students, who he encouraged to “Google Dizzy Gillespie” after the name of the jazz great drew blank stares.
The band grew out of Los Angeles’ Peace and Justice Center 15 years ago and has championed peace and understanding through their music ever since. From humble beginnings, they’ve traveled to such places as a Palestinian refugee camp and the closed country of Myanmar to spread their message.
“None of the band members ever though they’d go to all the places they’ve been,” Sierra said.
“There’s so many things in this world , when you see first hand, it makes you appreciate your life,” Sierra added.
While students received an unexpected wristband guaranteeing them entrance to Saturday’s show following the talk, the motivation they received may be longer lasting.
“Hearing it from them, what they’ve been able to overcome, it’s inspiring,” said Generation Green President Ulysses Tapia. “It just gets us to step up.”
The South Tahoe High School senior said he hopes to attend school within the University of California system next year, where he’ll certainly need to heed one piece of advice from Sierra that drew chuckles from those in attendance Saturday.
“Save your money,” Sierra said.