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Monday, March 16, 2009


Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores

LIFE ON THE road can be tough — living out of a suitcase, time away from family, grueling hours and limited sleep. But this pales in comparison to the true road perils that L.A.-based hip-hop, salsa, jazz, funk and general all-around fusion band Ozomatli has had to endure during its ongoing stint as State Department-sponsored musical ambassadors. The group performs in places that rarely, if ever, see Western bands, not knowing how the crowds will react. Oh, that, and there was that microphone in Madagascar that nearly electrocuted singer and guitarist Raul Pacheco. "There were probably a good 200-something volts that went through him, knocked him clear from the front to the side of the stage," recalled Ozo clarinet and sax player Uli Bella. For a band that doesn't hide its displeasure over the former Bush administration's foreign policies and is staunchly anti-war, it was an interesting proposal by the State Department two years ago. In previous generations the agency has sponsored jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong on goodwill concerts in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. "It was an opportunity to play for crowds and people that don't know who Ozomatli is or what we're about," Bella said. "But we're the right kind of band that can weather those kinds of odds, play our music and still get a great reaction from people. Our music is very dance-based and globally influenced." While travel is nothing new for Ozomatli — the collective of musicians from various genres linked up 13 years ago to perform and raise money for the Peace and Justice Center for inner-city Los Angeles youths — they recognize that performing in these locales is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They've performed in Jordan, at citadels and forts in Egypt, and in Tunisia, India and South America. The band will make trips to Myanmar, Vietnam and Russia in May. » 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; with Lionize, Thu., Mar. 12, 10 p.m. (doors), $22; 202-265-0930. (U St. -Cardozo). Photo courtesy Jon Coulthard. Tagged in Arts & Events , Metro , Music , The District , U Street-Cardozo , Weekend Pass

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