A conversation with Raul Pacheco starts like one of his band’s concerts: With an instant smile.
Ozomatli closes out the year and opens 2018 with concerts in vacation destinations Austin, Texas, Lake Tahoe and the Hawaiian Islands. “Poor us,” Pacheco told Tahoe Onstage, his tongue clearly in his cheek.
The new year will include a 20-year anniversary celebration of the self-titled debut Ozomatli album, which will be re-mixed and re-released. There will be summer reunion tour in Europe with rapper Chali 2na, who was featured on that first album.
Named for the god of dance and fire, Ozomatli is a celebration of diversity. Latin, Cuban, afrobeat, funk and hip-hop are among the sounds the socially conscious band has shared live in 56 countries. Twenty-three years after the group was formed, its message and inspiration is more important than it’s ever been.
If the news in 2017 has brought the blues, this music is a remedy.
“(Current events have) spawned a lot more activism, a lot more people to speak out and take chances and take stands on issues, which is very different and which is good,” Pacheco said. “A lot of what we bring is a celebration of our differences. That’s what it has always been about. If we all stay together, everything’s going to be all right.”
The ever-exploring Ozomatli takes concertgoers on a musical trip across the world. The band’s 10th album, “Non-Stop: Mexico-Jamaica,” released last May, is a collection of popular Mexican tunes sung in Spanish with brand new arrangements. Some of the band members were reluctant to play covers, but they enthusiastically approved when legendary reggae producers Sly & Robbie offered their services.
A traditional six-string electric guitar player, Pacheco learned to play the three-chord Cuban tres to create an authentic changui flavor of the Afro-Cuban arrangements. Pacheco said he tuned the tres guitar in an open D, with the bass note on the bottom, the opposite of conventional tuning.
“That’s probably one of the most fun things about being in this band throughout the years; you have those opportunities to dig into other music,” he said. “That’s what makes the shows more fun because you see is kind of like going to places that a lot of people maybe have not ever heard of. We’re happy to introduce some of those sounds to people.”
Ozomatli’s decades-long run have included unique performances. The band with a wanderlust has flown in a small prop plane to a remote Alaskan town and has even played in war-torn Myanmar. It has performed at Boston Pops, whose conductor created orchestral arrangements of Ozomatli songs. The band has since gone on to play with the Denver, San Diego, San Francisco and Detroit symphonies.
The six band members have been together ever since the first album was released 20 years ago. They don’t play 250 shows a year anymore, but the flames of passion and creativity still burn.
“Ozomatli is not only our livelihood but it our own way to express personal interests both in music and in life,” Pacheco said.
“We are in there battling right now because we want it to be good. … We are not resting on our laurels. We are super committed to playing live shows that rock. We are committed to staying healthy so we can do that… to making new music that is relevant and that we love and are proud of.
“We are full human beings and we’ve learned how to bring that to the stage, which is very different from when you are in your 20s. I think there a richness to that. After 23 years, we’re still going.”