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Latin rockers Ozomatli trying to make a difference -

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HAYDEN COOPER, PRESENTER: The Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli is a Grammy-winning multicultural force that fuses elements of Latin, hip-hop, rock, reggae: you name it.

They've served as cultural ambassadors for the United States, performed for the Obamas and they take a firm stance on issues like immigration reform, health care and the rights of Latin Americans.

The band is bringing crowds to their feet around Australia at the moment, but they made time to talk to reporter Monique Schafter.

(Excerpt from music video for 'Brighter' by Ozomatli)

OZOMATLI (sing): Weight's gonna get much lighter / World's gonna look much brighter / Though the heat's gonna carry on / We'll make it through the night...

MONIQUE SCHAFTER, REPORTER: Ozomatli has been together for over 20 years. What inspired you to form all those years ago?

RAUL PACHECO, OZOMATLI: Everyone kind of was in different bands, knew different music. And they said, "What do you know?" "I know a Mexican folk song." "I've never played that. What do you usually play?" "Reggae and funk." "Well, here are the chords. Let's just make it work."

There wasn't a drummer. Cut Chemist, our DJ at the time, was there. He played a beat: let's play to that. That's how the sound developed.

(Excerpt from music video for 'Brighter' by Ozomatli)

OZOMATLI (sing): We judge all by actions / Love's the only answer...

JUSTIN 'EL NINO' POREE, OZOMATLI: We always sought out to be the type of band that could connect with people on just the basic level. You know: just to dance and music. And we've always tried to bring it through whatever shows we play.

(Excerpt from music video for 'Brighter' by Ozomatli)

OZOMATLI (sing): We'll make it through the night / Weight's gonna get much lighter / World's gonna look much brighter / Though the heat's gonna carry on / We'll make it through...

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Not only have you won multiple Grammies but you've served as ambassadors for the US State Department. What does that mean?

ULISES BELLA, OZOMATLI: When we first got offered the gig, it was like: wow, should we do this? You know, it was the tail-end of the Bush era. You know, we weren't that popular on the global stage. (Laughs)

JIRO YAMAGUCHI, OZOMATLI: You mean the United States?

ULISES BELLA: The United States, you know. And...

RAUL PACHECO: Has not changed much.

ULISES BELLA: You know, has it? I don't know.

When you look at the tradition as far as people who have done it in the past, amazing jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, you know. And it definitely put us in places where bands never go.

Our first tour was India and Nepal. And you know, when we played Kathmandu, there might have been, like, 10 people who knew about Ozomatli in the whole country. Ten thousand people showed up.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: You've taken a firm stance on social justice issues through your music. What issues are most important to you right now?

ULISES BELLA: Obviously we're in the middle of a very chaotic and surreal election cycle. So we're trying to see how it all comes down, whether it's supporting education, supporting immigration reform.

And it's interesting, because a lot of these issues transcend the United States, you know, and are issues that obviously even here in Australia, you have dealt with: immigration issues, you know? Education, health care.

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Donald Trump has a plan to build a wall on the US-Mexican border. How are you feeling about the presidential campaign?

ULISES BELLA: Well, we're investing in tunnel companies lately.

(Bandmates laugh)

ULISES BELLA: And we're making things happen. And ladders.

RAUL PACHECO: There's elements that are a joke, with someone like that. And it's very difficult to take seriously. And at the same time, it's a very serious thing to have the type of discussion that's happening: these kinds of extreme views that we feel are offensive in many ways.

ASDRUBAL SIERRA, OZOMATLI: It's easy to get lost in that political circus a bit, you know: all the rhetoric that goes on.

I think with music all we could do is just remind everyone the heart behind it all. The best thing that we can do is just help people to see what it's like to be in other people's shoes.

(Footage of Ozomatli performing)

JUSTIN 'EL NINO' POREE (rapping): Too many trials, much tribulation / Gun play, bad day, devastated nation / Worldwide (inaudible) destination / Lost in (inaudible), wake up, annihilation...

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Favourite songs to perform on stage?

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: For me it's 'Cumbia de los Muertos', because it speaks from direct experience about my neighbourhood where I grew up and the gang violence and drugs and how children become pall-bearers so young, so early.

(Footage of the band performing 'Cumbia de los Muertos')

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: What neighbourhood do you come from?

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: North-east LA. Glassell Park.

ULISES BELLA: Damn, she's hitting you up here, homes.


ULISES BELLA: Where you from, man?

(Band laughs)

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: I grew up in Glassell Park. Yeah.

ULISES BELLA: Damn, these Australian gangs.

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: I know what you're saying. But yeah, Glassell Park. Back in the day, it was pretty bananas there when I grew up.

ULISES BELLA: Now there's hipsters.

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: A lot of hipsters.

ULISES BELLA: Everyone wants fancy coffee.

BAND MEMBER (off-screen): I go there all the time.

(Excerpt from music video for 'Place in the Sun' by Ozomatli)

OZOMATLI (sing): Cali, find your place in the sun / Cali, find your place in the sun...

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Your performance style has a real party vibe and you're in Australia headlining Victoria's all-ages Lost Lands festival. Are festival environments like the perfect gig for you?

BAND MEMBER (off-screen): For sure. Yeah.

JIRO YAMAGUCHI: We've done... Festivals are really are where we...

BAND MEMBER (off-screen): Our forte.

JIRO YAMAGUCHI: Yes, where we - our strengths are in festivals, I believe.

This is more of a family-friendly environment.

BAND MEMBER (off-screen): We get the kids going crazy, man.


BAND MEMBER (off-screen): Remember that school?

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: And we bring the kids out in people, too. I think that's what we do, too. It's like: I don't dance at all. I hate to dance. But I'm in a band that does basic international dance music.

JUSTIN 'EL NINO' POREE (raps): Let the sun roll by / Eyes on the prize / Smile on your face, you place realise / Settle in your place as the world goes by / There were dreams to sell, how many dreams would you buy?

MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Why do you love making music?

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: It's the only job in the world where you express how you are feeling without acting on it.

JUSTIN 'EL NINO' POREE (sings): So watch the sunset / Shine down on your face...

ASDRUBAL SIERRA: There's also the big mix of the music in there. 'Cause in a way, that's what we do: we mix. We fuse things together. And if we could do that with our music, we could do that with people.

HAYDEN COOPER: Monique Schafter reporting.