Monday, May 17, 2010

OZOMATLI addresses gay rights with 'Gay Vatos in Love'

Ozomatli video for “Gay Vatos In Love” >

Celebrated Los Angeles culture-mashers Ozomatli are back with a new album and a new label, Fire Away, out now on Mercer Street Records / Downtown Records.

Fire Away features the band’s Grammy Award winning mix of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga. Fire Away is arguably Ozomatli’s most diverse album yet, ranging from the emotionally resplendent ballads “It’s Only Time” and “Love Comes Down,” to the 60’s Stax influenced vibe of “45” and the Spanglish of “Nadas Por Free”.

But Fire Away also includes one of the more controversial songs Ozomatli has ever penned in the band’s 15 year history, “Gay Vatos In Love”. The inspirations for the song include the protests revolving around Prop 8 in California, and the murder of a transgender teen, Angie Zapata, who was beaten to death in Greeley, Colorado in July of 2008.

Some may raise eyebrows that a group with no gay members would address same sex unions, but the subject matter doesn’t seem so contentious in the hands of a band with a longstanding mission of peace and tolerance. The Los Angeles Times recently noted “...the iconic fusion band whose sound is seen as representative of multicultural Los Angeles is arguably taking one of its most politically daring steps this year. The track that celebrates same-sex relationships -- and also deals with gay violence and denial...”

Ozomatli guitarist / vocalist Raul Pacheco poses a simple question, “Do you believe that everyone deserves love? Even gay vatos?” Pacheco quickly adds, “Yes, for sure. It is always a good time to challenge our own notions and boundaries of what can be. Especially in the ever present natural need and quest for love. We say, let every person have the right to choose who and how they love one another.”

Percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi asserts that the song “is not tongue in cheek, it’s a very beautiful love song. It’s a song about equal rights, it’s a song about questioning violence against people.” Ozomatli vocalist Asdru Sierra comments, “all that this community is asking for is the same rights, the same civil rights, that everyone else gets if you fall in love,” adding, “...if our fans dig it or don’t dig it, I’d love to hear it”.

Ozo’s Ulises Bella contends, “it has to come from a place of seriousness and reality... the connection of all our struggles together whether it’s the woman’s movement, African American movement, Chicano movement, Asian movement - you name it - our struggles are very much connected and it’s that point of seeing the connection that I think is very important for us to try to bring to light”.

Pacheco says, “I’m proud that [Ozomatli] are able to play it for people who don’t even want to hear it.” He adds, “it’s a message of just being yourself.”


Gaby and Mando walking through the park
Looking for love in protection of the dark
Club Cobra, a temple in the night,
The more I hear of Morrissey, the more I feel alright

(Chorus) Gay Vatos in Love

Javi and Kique with their girlfriends in the car
Fronting on Crenshaw knowing who they are
Juan Gabriel says, “amor es amor”
But Angie Zapata is lying on the dance floor

(Chorus) Gay Vatos in Love

If the world can’t understand
Stand by your man!

Ozomatli’s “Gay Vatos In Love” video was shot by Nick Reiber, and the still images of LGBT couples in were graciously supplied by HONOR FUND, a Los Angeles based non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the rights and freedoms of the Latino LGBT community through leadership development, advocacy, and public education.

2009 proved to be a busy year for Ozomatli, serving as US cultural ambassadors with a US sponsored State Department trip that included Ozomatli community outreach and performances in Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand. The band was also honored to play for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 32nd Annual Award Gala, held in Washington DC in September.

2010 looks to continue Ozomatli’s feverish pace. In addition to taking their incendiary live show on the road in support of Fire Away; March featured two shows at the SXSW Festival in Austin, May has already included a collaboration with the Boston Pops Orchestra for the 125th Pops Anniversary Celebration, and the band will once again be serving as US Cultural Ambassadors with a State Department trip to China and Mongolia in late May and early June.

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