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Street Signs

Street Signs Album Cover

Release Date: 06.22.04
Record label: Concord Jazz
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.


Multicultural Messaging Without Being Corny, Vol. 1
by: matt cibula

You hear about Ozomatli and they sound like you can write them off; a multiracial band (heavy on the Latinos), a taste for uplifting politics, rapping with live instruments, they’ve been on PBS, they got arrested for protesting blah blah blah. Everyone wants to like a band like this, because people want rappers who have something to say and say it well, people want a rap group that can also play live…but it never works out. You’ve been burned before. So you kinda write them off.

And then this happens: a really great album that transcends all the pre-existing notions that you might have about music like this. Ozo has truly stepped up into the big leagues.

How did they do it? Well, by incorporating even more sounds and genres and cultures into their already expansive vision. “Believe,” the first track, throws around a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sample and backing vocals from gnaour singer Hassan Hakmoun and East Asian chord structures to go along with its wah-wah scratch-funk guitar and its uplifting messages, delivered in Spanish and in English: “This is my world / This is your world / If you believe”. They use a Czech orchestra on some tracks, including the Cuban-influenced “Love and Hope,” they pull legendary pianist Eddie Palmieri in for “Nadie Te Tira” and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo for “Santiago,” old associates like Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist and Chali 2na (former full-time members of Ozomatli) drop by separately…it’s full but not overfull.

They’re also more like a band that uses rap now than being an actual rap band. This could have gone either way, but it turns out to be a great thing. “Te Estoy Buscando” is a tango, crooned beautifully; “Saturday Night” is rap-metal with blazing horns—and both of them sound, magically, like the work of the same band. They can burn on “Déjeme en Paz,” slow it way down for “Te Estoy Buscando,” get introspective or party-ish or Latinate or Anglophile on any track they want—it all sounds like the work of the same band. And it sounds effortless.

There’s not a whole lot of sloganeering here, either, so even right-wingers can enjoy the work of this collective of street activists. When Ozo wants to make a political point, they will be doing so live, because many of these songs have very little to do with anyone’s political views. Yeah, there are some viewpoints taken, but unless you know Spanish, you aren’t going to be too affected by them.

It’s really more about the music. This is the way rap/rock makes sense: fiery, worldly, smooth and rough in equal degree. I love it all the way, and might end up with so much love that it ends up on my best-of list for the year. 29-Jun-2004 6:35 AM