I am lead singer and guitarist of the three-time Grammy-winning Los Angeles based band called Ozomatli. Our music has been recognized for meshing cultural musical styles rooted in the ever present beat that binds us all. In my band, the beat guides my voice and guitar, offering a road that invites decoration and adornment with my creative sensibilities. In my life, the beat is the daily experience that offers endless interaction with the collective us and within my own unique self. This blog is more about the human side. And because I am writing it, there's definitely some music in it.
My favorite thing about modern life is the strange mix and match of things. Like hearing a traditional Colombian cumbia rhythm and realizing a Jamaican reggae dub bass line can lock on top, and feel and sound fresh. I compare this to the profoundly funniest scenes in a Thomas Pynchon novel, moments where cultures, time and place collide. I call it cultural overlay and it gives me a deeply joyful experience that I get to express through my music.
What is cultural overlay? Let me explain...
Returning from a recent tour that included stops in Poland, Lithuania and England, I was able to spend much-needed time at home and connect with friends and all things local. Like any major city, Los Angeles is a place many people consider a destination to root and reshape their lives. It is a place where one can create a new sense of self and many of its residents originate from the far off regions I have been lucky enough to play. China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe, Africa and many other places have melded their unique stories into the collective body that I call home. This is an exciting reason to be a musician in Los Angeles. It offers a world of sonic choices wrapped in layers of overlapping daily experiences. I'll tell you about one...
Having a free end of summer weekend left me with a myriad of music choices. I picked the once posh MacArthur Park bandshell as my destination. Now located in the primarily central american working-class neighborhood of Westlake, MacArthur Park was offering a free concert of my newly found guitar hero. Omara Moctar, aka Bombino, is a Saharan desert Tuareg nomad and his music consists of guitar-based political songs that highlight his peoples' protests against the governments of Niger and Mali. Dressed in traditional desert garments Bombino and his band sang passionately accompanied by cranked up fender guitars. The audience consisted of curious central american locals unexpectedly stumbling onto these sounds while heading to and leaving their local soccer games mixed with people like local funk rock icon and ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Arik Marshall, Los Angeles Times music critic Randall Roberts, influential independent radio producer Ariana Morgenstern of KCRW, downtown LA hipster bands, actors and artists, and real life locals, the homeless. All were mesmerized and danced along to the rapturous passion of Bombino's vocals mixed with his north african fiery guitar riffs that referenced elder bluesman and sometimes even heavy rock ala Black Sabbath. Besides the incredibly moving music, my favorite moments consisted of the local children riding their bikes up to the front of the stage in awe. Their look seemed to say, "Who are these guys? What is this music?" The funniest moment was noticing the fashion similarities between the hipsters and homeless...mmmmmm.
This was cultural overlay at its best and offered a type of magic. To witness desert nomads perform to a truly mixed audience in one of the oldest locally existing bandshells in LA is post-modernism in full play. This overlapping of cultural experience is why I believe and act in the appreciation of all that each of us brings to this earth. Is there room for difference? I believe so. Because underneath it all is the ever present beat that binds us all. This Chicano from East LA would have it no other way.
Raul Pacheco is a Chicano that happens to sing and play guitar for Los Angeles' based band Ozomatli.
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