Ozomatli plays MontBleu, brings genre blend
Lake Tahoe Action
STATELINE, Nev. – Ozomatli, the band that spans genres like it does borders, is headed to MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa Saturday, Jan. 8, to share a unique blend of Latin boogie, hip-hop and world music funk.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ulises Bella, the band’s multitalented saxophonist and back-up vocalist, about his experiences of being a United States cultural ambassador, marijuana advocate and political activist.
The band from Los Angeles has toured the world extensively, sometimes at the behest of the United States government to spread a message of music and peace to countries such as Nepal, India, Mongolia and Burma. They have not only played for President Barack Obama at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Awards Gala, but have also performed a concert alongside Rage Against the Machine to thousands of protesters during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
Q: You guys have played all over the world in exotic places people never play. Do you prefer those types of gigs or do you prefer playing hometown gigs in L.A.?
Bella: Well, L.A. is home, you know, it’s always good to be at home. But our other gigs, the ambassador gigs, change your life and your perspectives on everything, you know? You get to see the viewpoints of people from all walks of like and what people’s perceptions really are and what someone like me from Los Angeles can have with the average guy in Mongolia. Each and everyone of those gigs has changed us for the better and opened our eyes in one way or another.
Q: So with so many exotic shows under your belt, what has been the most surreal show you have had the opportunity to play?
Bella: Oh man, there have been so many surreal experiences, I don’t even know. I guess some would be like when we played in Kathmandu, Nepal, for 10,000 people, or this recent show we did in Mongolia for 20,000. Those were definitely trips, man. I mean nobody understands anything. They all enjoyed it. They just let the music stand alone and unite.
Q: You released your new album “Fire Away” on April 20. Is there any special reason the band decided to drop it on that most particular of days?
Bella: Nah, man, it was the record company who finally decided, but let the stoner conspiracies fly, man. Maybe I was smoking some Nepali hash and had a vision that it just needed to be let loose on that day.
Q: While we’re on the subject, what do you think about the upcoming vote in November on Prop. 19, the regulate, control and tax cannabis act?
Bella: I hope it passes. People need to get out and vote like they never have before. Prohibition is detrimental to American society. Look at the war on drugs. It’s a black hole we keep throwing money into. Prohibition doesn’t work, especially with something like marijuana.
Q: So you think it’s going to pass?
Bella: Let’s hope so. Let’s hope it passes with such a majority there’s a domino effect across the country.
Q: Here in South Lake Tahoe, the city council is moving on placing regulations on the sale of medicinal marijuana and possibly an outright ban on medicinal dispensaries. In your opinion, what do you think will happen if these bans and regulations pass?
Bella: Everything is just going to go back underground, unregulated and outside the law. They’re not going to stop people from smoking weed. We’re also talking about a plant with many other uses than just getting high. Obviously, the laws aren’t working anymore. It’s just not logical to put people in jail for something like marijuana. Look at the Dutch example. Sure, first off there will be a spike because what was illegal is now legal and everyone is going to try and see what the fuss was about. I went on a trip to Amsterdam and went nuts. At first we were simply overwhelmed and tried too much of everything simply because we could. But after a little while, I realized that it could be like that with anything. Say you’re from a country where Cheetos are illegal, and you end up at a 7-Eleven and realize that not only you can get regular Cheetos, no, you can get puffs and spicy ones, too. At first you’re gonna try everything, but eventually you’ll realize that it isn’t even a thing to trip about.
Q: Your band has been involved in political activism from its inception, and some of the gigs you have played have been motivated by a desire to make a real political change through your music, despite just raising awareness in different causes have you felt that you work has made a real tangible difference in peoples lives?
Bella: When it really comes to it, if you want direct action the best has been our work with kids, or working with different orphanages. Teaching kids can effect their whole life. You can manipulate their life for the better by showing them a positive way to do things, that through something positive they can better their own lives.
Q: Your band were avid supporters of now President Obama when he was running for election. What do you think about him now, two years into his presidency?
Bella: We were supporters of him and the whole election. I personally thought it was important simply for race relations in our country, but did I believe for one moment there would be some sweeping shift in the way things really are? Hell no. We’re stuck in a war that was meaningless and also stuck with an invasion we cant get out of. I’m sure he may be helping, but there are more necessary things we need to be concentrating on in order to bring about a real peace and change in the world.
Q: What kind of changes?
Bella: In the end people need to just be open-hearted and compassionate toward each other. People need to see other points of view and work together. I’m not blind to the fact that there are people who can’t be reconciled and want nothing but war. These aren’t the ones that should be talking things over. We just need to be respectful to each other and try and moderately work toward a solution.