Ozomatli is the Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers of Los Angeles.
Like Brown's go-go outfit, Ozomatli uses multiple percussionists (timbales, congas, trap drums and turntables) to stir up a polyrhythmic groove beneath its horn riffs and chanted vocals. As in Brown's case, the format is so flexible that it can absorb everything from jazz to rap, but because Ozomatli is based in L.A., most of what is absorbed is Latin -- salsa, mariachi, merengue, cumbia and rock en espanol. On the 10-member group's new album, "Street Signs," the guests range from salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri and Los Lobos singer David Hidalgo to DJ Cut Chemist and Moroccan vocalist Hassan Hakmoun.
Rapper Chali 2na, now with Jurassic 5, reunites with his former bandmates in Ozomatli to pose the question, "Who's to Blame?" Middle Eastern motifs in the form of a melodica line and tabla rhythms set the stage for a tongue-twisting, left-wing critique of the current administration. That's followed immediately by a yearning love song in Spanish, "Te Estoy Buscando," complete with a sampled string arrangement from a 1940s tango band led by Carlos di Sarli. "Believe" is a Beatlesque extravaganza that includes strings, wah-wah guitar, drum loops, qawwali drones, anthemic bilingual vocals, rap breaks and probably the kitchen sink.
Kinky's self-titled 2001 debut album was frustrating; the artsy electro-pop assemblages sounded good, but they were so self-contained (and self-indulgent) that the listener felt shut out. The Mexican quintet's follow-up disc, "Atlas," is a genuine breakthrough, because the band's inventiveness is now harnessed to well-shaped rock 'n' roll songs that provide the pleasures of hooks, riffs and plain talk.
This new willingness to look outward is obvious in pointed political songs about Mexico's "Presidente" Vicente Fox and office workers caught in their cubicles like a "Minotauro" in a labyrinth. "Airport Feelings" and the palindrome-titled "Salta-Lenin-El-Atlas" describe the depersonalizing aspects of modern travel, while "Maria Jose" tells a funny story about the consequences of too much tequila. Kinky cleverly borrows from the Clash, the Beatles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beck; it even has Cake's John McCrea add vocals and organ to "The Headphonist." But the Monterrey group counterbalances these Anglo-American influences with enough Latin flavors and enough original twists to create a distinctive sound of its own.
Los Lonely Boys aren't the only Latino-rock band to sweep the Austin Music Awards on the strength of their acoustic-guitar rhythms. Los Lonely Boys did it this year, but Del Castillo did it in 2003, and you can sample the excitement of that group's stage show on the new DVD, "Live." The sextet builds its sound on the foundation of brothers and guitarists Mark and Rick del Castillo, who alternate driving chords with flashy single-note lines rooted in flamenco but given a rock en espanol twist. A muscular rhythm section reinforces the momentum, and Alejandro Ruiz gives the melodies a throaty rock roar.
Director Robert Rodriguez, who used Del Castillo's music in last year's film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," repaid the favor by shooting this 43-minute video. It's a reflection of modern Texan culture that the lyrics are all in Spanish, while all the banter and interviews are in English, and that the music itself is equal parts Spanish flamenco, Mexican pop and North American rock. Playing extended versions of three songs from the 2001 debut disc, "Brothers of the Castle," and three more from the award-winning follow-up, "Vida," Del Castillo is sparked every time by the virtuosity of its namesake brothers.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Sunday at Nation. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Ozomatli, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8110; to hear Kinky, press 8111; to hear Del Castillo, press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)