Garrett Leight

The eclectic musical sound of Ozomatli will be blaring tonight at The Graduate with special guest State Radio. The event kicks off Ozomatli’s two-month tour.

A decade ago, 10 Los Angeles performers decided to push the boundaries of music with their diverse musical backgrounds to make what critics call a motley of urban funk.

“At first, everybody’s different taste in music made it harder for us to write music,” said Justin Poree, the band’s conga player. “After years of being together we now know how each of us works in the studio and we have had time to gel together and make our music.”

Originally, the band was put together to raise money for inner city youth through the Peace and Justice Center in their hometown, Poree said.

The group, made up of Wil-Dog (bass and vocals), Uli Bella (saxophone, clarinet, requinto jarocho and keyboards), Shef (trombone and vocals), DJ Spinobi (turntables), Mario Calire (drums), Raul Pacheco (guitar and sotto voce), Asdru Sierra (lead vocals and trumpet), Jabu (vocals), Jiro Yamaguchi (percussion) and Poree (congas), said they have always been committed to social justice and progressive politics.

“After eight years of being together our overall comfort level with ourselves and with our playing has really grown,” Bella said on the group’s Web site, www.ozomatli.com. “The songs venture off to a lot of different areas. That’s the beauty of Ozomatli, being able to do things really differently than everyone else.”

The group’s board mixer, Serben Ghenea has worked with everyone from NERD, to Justin Timberlake, to Michael Jackson and Prince. In addition, the group’s engineers Robert Carranza and Anton Pukshansky have collaborated with the likes of Beck, Santana, Jack Johnson and Cypress Hill.

Through the years, Ozomatli’s music has changed and evolved through each album.

“Since we started, our perspectives have changed as our lives have changed,” Bella said, according to the band’s Web site. “We just trust each other more now. Everyone gives everyone the space we all need.”

According to the group’s Web site, the latest album “Street Signs,” released in June of 2004 with Concord Records, won a Latin Grammy award and bears a new Middle-Eastern influence while mixing it with Ozomatli’s trademark fusion of hip-hop and Latin sounds.

The latest album features appearances from the band’s original MC Chali 2na (now with Jurassic 5), DJ Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5), Eddie Palmieri and Les Yeux Noir.

Going back a few years, Poree talked a little about the band’s second album “Embrace the Chaos,” which Ozomatli released on Sept. 11, 2001 and its decision to move forward with a tour scheduled that year while other bands in the United States canceled concerts.

“It wasn’t even a conscious decision,” Poree said. ” We just did it because there was no reason not to do it. At that time especially, we felt we needed to give the people music and a positive message.”

According to the band’s Web site, Sierra said, “Sept. 11 really pushed us to delve into North African and Arab music. For us, music is a language far more universal than politics.”

Poree spoke particularly about the group’s performance in New York after the attacks. From what he recalls, the energy in the city was very somber; like the city was in a daze. However, he said when they played their music for the few hours they were on stage, the people that were there were able to let go and feel the positive energy that music can produce.

For Ozomatli, performing and writing music has always been about just that: the love of music and moving people. Bella explains that the band was not formed to get a record deal – it was simply about the love of music.

“Music is very important,” Poree said. “Every culture around the world has music because through music you can speak. Music moves the world.”

When the group takes the stage tonight, they will be performing some new songs that they plan on putting on their next album due to release sometime next year, Poree said.

Tickets for the all-ages show are available at Boo Boo Records, www.vallitix.com and Mid-State Fairgrounds. If the show does not sell-out, tickets will be sold at the door for $22.50. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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