If you take a gander at the stage during Ozomatli’s headlining set at the tonight, you’ll see a whole host of instruments, including saxophone, clarinet, keyboard, melodica and the requinto jarocho, a traditional small guitar from Mexico.
And those are just the instruments Ulises (“Uli”) Bella plays. His six bandmates only add to the sonic stew, blending Latin and hip-hop, funk and reggae into a potent sound that has transformed venues all over the world into a summertime block party.
But although Ozomatli have been ambassadors for peace and human rights all over the world for more than 15 years, playing everywhere from Kathmandu, Nepal to a Palestinian refugee camp, they’ve also played their share of county fairs.
All Bella really wants to talk about is what kind of county fair food he’ll be able to eat this weekend.
“That’s where you find your deep-fried Twinkies,” he says. “Those are the places where it’s fun to hang out before and after the show and talk to people. Who knows, we might even have some turkey legs on stage.”
The septet continues to tour in support of its latest album, 2010’s Fire Away, but they’re no longer the incessant road warriors they used to be. After countless non-stop touring, Bella says the group has gotten more selective with its tour date while maintaining its interest in taking its raucous live shows as many places as possible.
“It’s not working harder but working smarter,” Bella says. “Part of it is that people have families and kids now. But it’s also because in the middle of a long tour, you’ll find yourself with a day off in some town in Iowa or Ohio and you say to yourself, ‘what the heck am I doing here.’ I should be at home. So now we go on the road for short spurts.”
Bella said their 90-minute set tonight has something for longtime Ozomatli fans and newcomers alike. “We do try to mix in songs from our whole discography and songs that resonate the best in a live setting,” he says. “Over the years we’ve figured out that some songs work great as openers and some as closers and others are really good in the middle.”
The group is also using its time off the road to record music for video games like Happy Feet 2. And they’re also working on a kids album, something Bella says has been long discussed amongst the band members.
“We’ve always been into playing shows and concerts for children,” he says. “We’ve been playing for kids forever and probably have mores kids concerts under our belt than many of the groups that have recorded kids albums. So we figured, “Why not us?”
Fair Concert: Ozomatli
Time: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Marin County Fairgrounds, Play Fair Pavillion
Cost: Free with fair admission ($15 adults, $13 children & seniors)