Ozomatli And Friends (And Stevie Wonder), At Grand Performances, Friday August 2nd 2013
I went to an Ozomatli concert and Stevie Wonder showed up? What happened? In fact it wasn’t even exactly an Ozomatli concert, the California Plaza Grand Performances entitled ‘Songs in the Key of LA’ was rather a homage to the city of angels and for the occasion the Los Angeles Public Library had asked Ozomatli and some friends to perform old songs with a Los Angeles theme. The multi-ethnic and influenced band was the perfect fit for this musical love letter to the city , and all night long they performed old songs, described as ‘LA musical treasures’ and ‘hidden gems from the Los Angeles Public Library sheet music archive’, which hadn’t been performed for close to a century.
Curator of the show Josh Kun had hand picked these pre 1950s-compositions, which were written for a single instrument and never recorded, so Ozomatli and their friends had the difficult task to reinvent, reinterpret the songs and give them a contemporary sound. So, during the past eight months, Ozomatli, the quintessence band of LA, had adapted 11 songs from the Library’s archive with the help of many other artists and performed them while curator and USC professor Josh Kuhn was providing a little history on early music in between the performances. As they were projecting old illustrations of the songs, I noticed that 1913’s ‘I Love You California’, the state official song, had an illustration (a bear hugging the California state) that has recently re-appears on Best Coast’s last album, ‘The Only Place’.
May be the organizers wanted to do a bit too much, as they were trying to reconstruct Los Angeles history through the songs, and I am not sure the crowd which had packed the California Plaza was ready to listen to these history lessons since people were mostly there to have a musical picnic! I could hear people chatting a lot during these brief intellectual interruptions, explaining the inspiration behind the songs, our famous California sunshine, our oranges, the moon or Spanish heritage and missions. I first thought it would be a bit boring as these songs seemed quite dated, even re-cooked at the Ozo sauce, but nothing sounded boring with their mix of urban rap and Latino sound. Plus Ozomatli brought up a cool line up with them: Ceci Bastida, who grew up in Tijuana, reinterpreted some Spanish song of the mid 1800s and also X’s ‘Los Angeles’,… yeah they did a few contemporary songs too! Then the Petrojvic Blasting Company brought some horns and brass band feeling, while I See Hawks in LA brought a country ambiance. Of course Ozomatli had to please their fans, and did ‘Chango’ with a group of little children dancing around, and it was quite the cute moment. Cheech Marin did his funny version of ‘Born in East LA’ with the help of Ozo, and Highland park native Jackson Browne, whom I had seen taking a break in the local Starbucks just before the show, performed ‘Ramona’ and his own ‘Culver Moon’, still backed up by Ozomatli. La Santa Cecilia did an animated version of the traditional Mexican folk song ‘Chiapanecas’ with Mexican accordion… and there also was a cool rendition of ska punk band Sublime’s ‘April 29, 1992’, referring to the date of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
This brilliant line-up sounded already great for this Los Angeles musical tribute, but more magic was about to happen. It was close to the end of the show when curator Josh Kun announced a surprise guest, and when he pronounced ‘Stevie Wonder’ I thought he was joking,… Stevie Wonder? You mean the Stevie Wonder, unannounced at a free concert? Suddenly, people were paying more attention, and despite everyone’s disbelief, Stevie Wonder stepped on stage to perform ‘Overjoyed’,… at the first wobbling warm notes, people stood up, thrilled and excited to be there, I got chills along the spine and had this super-lucky-to-be-there feeling. I was split between letting my camera down to enjoy the moment or filming the whole thing, and I finally ended up filming the whole thing. Stevie Wonder also did ‘Land of La La’, a very long number,… but at this point, nobody wanted the show to end ad Stevie even stayed on stage for Ozomatli’s grand finale, a rendition of their anthem ‘Como Ves’ with the help of everyone reappearing on stage. Stevie Wonder even sang ‘Stand your peace, Not your ground!’ at one point, and injected the famous song ‘La Bamba’ with the help of his harmonica, for the crowd immense pleasure. It was a truly surreal and LA pride moment or just an ordinary night in my amazing city!