There are two types of troublemakers in the world: those who seek trouble and those whom trouble always seems to follow. Ozomatli falls in the latter category. At the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, it was Rage Against the Machine that made headlines after riot squads broke up an angry crowd of protesters. But that band took the stage only after Ozomatli had already riled up the crowd. More recently, members of Ozomatli were arrested when a concert at Austin's South by Southwest music conference spilled out into the street, the band's populism butting heads with permit-happy police.
In both cases Ozomatli insisted it was all about the music -- in its case, an irresistible 21st-century melange layered with various messages of defiance. "Street Signs," the group's third album, is full of protest both explicit ("[Who Discovered] America?" and "Who's to Blame") and implicit (the Middle Eastern underpinnings of such tracks as "Believe," which enlists Moroccan singer Hassan Hakmoun).
Stylistically speaking, Ozomatli's modus operandi remains fairly static, but that hardly makes the music sedate. "Street Signs" is the sound of a dozen different forms of music blasting from car stereos and mingling in the air. Latin, hip-hop, rock, jazz, funk, soul -- nothing is out of bounds for Ozomatli, because it keeps expanding the boundaries. Unlike 2001's cameo-heavy "Embrace the Chaos," the group sounds perfectly in control of its sonic stew, as comfortable in its grasp of cumbia as it is with its blasts of punk and DJ Cut Chemist's deft turntable-scratching. It's a microcosm of 21st-century America, a 50-minute travelogue through our back yards and barrios.
-- Joshua Klein