To learn more about their new CD, Don’t Mess With The Dragon, World Music Central interviewed Asdru Sierra, Ozomatli‘s lead vocalist and trumpet player.
Is you latest album, Don’t Mess With The Dragon, the most cohesive up to date?
I believe it is…the definition of cohesion is "the action or fact of forming a united whole" That’s our M.O.! A utopian world, almost…a world where all worlds can coincide.
How was the new album put together?
We started off at an art gallery called "Tropico de Nopal." It was the gallery’s owner, Reyes, that suggested and offered his place so we can write our new album.
We each had our own "creation station." Our own wall that was decorated with signs and pictures, art our influences, inspirations, and tools we used to write.From this place we formed the skeletons of our new album. Then we went on our own, or in groups and developed the rest of our album, eventually leading to the co-production with Mr. KC Porter.
Could you tell us about some of the tracks in Don’t Mess With The Dragon?
The album ranges from social issues, humanitarian encouragement, family issues to the non-sensical and fun.
Violeta: This song speaks out from the heart about the war in the middle east. It envisions the point of view of the soldier-what may go through his or her mind, when the bullet penetrates and the body becomes unable to move. We believe the soldier may think of whoever he/she loves, or the children they may have that they’re missing out on, the reasons why they decided to join the military, and if it still makes sense at that point. Was it worth it? Was it just? Is this a good reason to die?
Can’t Stop: This song basically is me doing my best to tell my family, wife and kids to put up with me going through another album cycle. Giving hope and encouragement. Touring and traveling at least 250 days out of the year. Missing out on many moments in my children’s life to try to bring back enough means to make it worth it. To make it count. Letting them know that failure is not an option at this point, after doing this for so long…
I tried my best to make this message universal enough for anyone to apply it to their own struggles.
When I Close My Eyes: This song is about envisioning your success through any struggle…whether it’s overcoming an addiction or death, or any other struggle life gives you. But of course, this song comes coated with a crazy beat that identifies with and honors Los Angeles sounding type bands like Oingo Boingo, Fishbone, and the Chilis. Big influences on me and some of my band mates.
Temperatura: This song was created during the immigrants rights marches in Los Angeles. Meant to inspire and celebrate diversity which is the root of the birth of this country. At least that’s what it was meant to be in the beginning, right Mr. Gov’enator?
Ozomatli has musicians from different backgrounds and ethnicities. How did you put the group together?
We were all just friends who came together to play for free to raise money for a community center’s maintenance bills. Wil-Dog and the original drummer called us.
Musicians are color blind or ethnicity-free. We just care that you have a good-similar vibe with the rest of the band and you can play your part.
There wasn’t any ad in the paper put for this. "Looking for a classical Indian music/tabla player of Japanese decent, a Jewish American bassist influenced by Sly and Robbie, a Mexican guitarist that can play Cuban tres, a strat, a Veracruzan jarana, a half Spanish/Mexican tenor sax player that doubles on requinto jarocho and piano, and a Mexican American singer who can sound middle eastern, gitano, salsa, or rock in English or Spanish-play trumpet is a must. pros only apply. Self-transportation a must. serious label contacts and interest.
Ozomatli is on the road very often. How and when do you compose new pieces?
Some of us have laptops with Protools, or a handy guitar or keyboard with plenty of paper and pens. We write whenever we can. Or we jam something out during soundcheck and record it.
There’s no set way that we write, but we do it any way we can. It could be one guy bringing in something to the fellas, or the fellas bringing something to one guy.
In the end we all get together and record it at home, blacking out at least a constant month to do it…it’s not very organized or set in one way. It varies and we just roll with it.
You music shows a wide variety of influences, from rock and funk to cumbia and reggaetón. What are the band’s main influences?
There’s way too many to list as a collective….but mainly for some it can be From The Clash, to Ray Barretto, Miles Davis, To Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, The Beatles, Camarón de la Isla, U2, Johnny Chingas, Marley, Santana, Los Tigres Del Norte, Slayer, Ray Conniff, Metallica, Sly and Robbie, Public Enemy, The Rolling Stones, Devo, John Lennon, Tupac, Johnny Cash, Eddie Palmieri …man…too many to list… … I was just kiddin about Ray Conniff,
How did you connect with Carlos Santana?
Carlos gave us our first real tour that had an audience that was open to our diverse music. His son Salvador gave him our CD out of a pile of others that submitted themselves to tour with him and they dug it. Thank you, Sal!
The Santana clan has been very supportive in our career ever since. It’s strange, since Mr. Santana is an icon and living legend. He had a song in Spanish playing on the radio on heavy rotation right next The Beach Boys and The Beatles.
Do you collaborate with any of the rock en español bands?
We’ve done many shows with bands like Cafe Tacuba and Maldita Vecindad, Molotov, or Julieta Venegas, in festivals or shows, but never really did a collab.
How do audiences react to your bilingual lyrics?
In the US with new audiences it’s always a toss up, but when we go overseas it doesn’t matter. When we’re in countries that are separated by other languages by a matter of 300 miles away each way, no one really sees it as an issue. Some places in the world find it common to speak at least 3 or 4 languages.
Are your fans primarily Anglos or do you also have a following in the Spanish-speaking communities?
Yes, both. And many other foreign language communities.
Your group seems to be committed to some social causes. What movements interest you the most?
The war in the middle east is a big issue. We support peace. The reasons we are out there are not as clear as it should be.
There’s also the immigration issue. It’s contradictory to the root of our country to put such limits to immigrants that try to make a better life for themselves in the US.
I understand that there are problems, but it’s a bad move to create a metal blanket idea to stop immigrant’s rights.
Is Los Angeles a city open to multicultural sounds?
My experience has always been that Los Angeles is open to all sorts of sounds. But of course, it’s a huge city. It would be silly to think that EVERYONE likes it.