Over the past seventeen years, celebrated Los Angeles culture-mashers Ozomatli have sung about everything from immigration protests and gang violence to Hurricane Katrina. But with their new project, OzoKidz, the band has immersed themselves in a whole new world of storytelling, one with a very different list of priorities: photosynthesis, spelling, balloons, germs, skateboards, and of course, a runaway moose.
The idea to do the album struck the band after they were asked by PBS to record a series of instructional songs to be featured on-air and on-line as part of the network’s children’s programming. After writing “Opposable Thumbs,” “Nouns,” and “Measurement,” the prospect of creating an original album of their own started to not seem so far-fetched. Offers to record songs for the Warner Brother’s Interactive Elmo’s Musical Monsterpiece and Happy Feet II video games only sealed the deal: OzoKidz was meant to be. So armed with new songs and new stage outfits (rooster masks, anyone?) they started playing family-friendly concerts, landed some opening spots on the Yo Gabba Gabba tour, and then headed into the studio.Recorded at Brushfire Studios in LA with acclaimed producer Robert Carranza (Jack Johnson, Mars Volta), OzoKidz may sound like an Ozomatli album with its effortless bilingualism and trademark swirl of styles and genres — dancehall, merengue, rock steady, rock, hip hop, to name a few– but beyond its sparkling electronic beats and occasionally auto-tuned raps, this is an Ozo album without precedent. Think Burl Ives (“Little Grey Goose,” “Fooba Wooba John”) re-imagined for 21st century, multi-racial urban America.“The big difference with OzoKidz is that the songs are all information based,” says Abers, who takes a rare lead vocal turn on “Skateboard.” “You will learn how a tree grows. You’ll be tricked into exercising by dancing. We wanted to use upbeat, fun songs to help kids think about social issues, to learn about germs, to be educated about their world, to be healthy and active.”Proudly forged in the post-uprising days of 1990s Los Angeles, Ozomatli have always worked tirelessly to spread their music and their message across as many platforms, to as many audiences, as possible. They’ve played an endless string benefits and fundraisers, toured the world as cultural ambassadors of the US State Department, won multiple Grammy Awards, written music for films like A Better Life and video games like Happy Feet II, toured with comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, given their own TED talk, and played with the Boston Pops, New York Pops and The National Symphony. The one audience they hadn’t deliberately reached out to was the next (next) generation of Ozo fans.