Photo: Ann Summa/Getty Images
How Ozomatli's 1998 Debut Album Heralded A New Generation Of Latin Fusion
Released 25 years ago on June 16, Ozomatli updated Latin fusion for the 1990s. Their distinctly Angeleno blend of Latin genres with hip-hop, funk and reggaeset the pace for a lengthy career with a devoted following.
The opening track from Ozomatli’s 1998 self-titled debut album immediately sets the tone for the group’s musical voraciousness. "Como Ves" is awash with the sounds of urban Los Angeles — car traffic, a radio playing, a dog barking — and Brazilian batucada drumming, eventually becoming an energetic party song featuring a funky melodic bassline, lyrics in Spanish, and an African soukous-like guitar line accompanying the vocals.
Released 25 years ago on June 16, Ozomatli heralded a new generation in Latin fusion. While they were not pioneers of the genre — their forebears were the rock and blues-based fusion of California-born groups like Santana and Los Lobos — Ozomatli took Latin fusion to a whole other level and updated it for the 1990s. Their seamless blending of distinct Latin genres with hip-hop, funk, and reggae further marked the group as distinctly Angeleno. There have been other groups who followed Ozomatli’s blueprint, like the Bay Area’s O-Maya, but none that achieved its longevity or devoted following.
While the album’s sound and musicianship truly set the band apart, Ozomatli's lyrics also resonated with young audiences. On their debut (and throughout their career), Ozomatli has tackled local and global social justice issues, including police brutality, anti-immigrant policies, and U.S. imperialism in Latin America.
This is not surprising, given that the members of Ozomatli first met in the arena of labor organizing. Inspired by the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, the founding members — Raúl Pacheco, Asdrubal Sierra, Wil-Dog Abers, Justin Porée, Jiro Yamaguchi, Ulises Bella, DJ Cut Chemist, Chali 2na, William Marrufo, and Jose Espinoza — adopted a band name from an indigenous Nahuatl term that refers to the monkey figure found on the Aztec sun calendar. Their links to Mexican/Chicano identity and folk traditions were also apparent in ballads like "Aquí No Será," featuring accordion and requinto (a smaller, higher-pitched guitar) played by a member of Los Lobos, and the frenetic, Norteño-style song that closes the album, "La Misma Canción."
Ozomatli’s ideological leanings permeate the record. On the lovely Mexican folk-style ballad "Aquí No Será," the band employs an anti-imperialist message referencing the U.S. interventions in Central America in the 1980s: "We won’t have another Vietnam here/The Americas won’t allow another intervention into El Salvador," the chorus states. On "Chota" — the title is Salvedorian slang for the police — Ozo critiques U.S. immigration policy and warns "Careful, here comes the badge, the cops. Careful, here they come, cover your face." Its sung verse is followed by a rapped verse connecting anti-Black police brutality to the criminalization of Latino immigrants.
Notwithstanding the largely Latino identity of the group, Ozomatli’s sound can’t be divorced from the culturally diverse city in which the band was born. Their bassist is Jewish, their main percussionist is Japanese American, and two of their founding members belonged to the hip-hop group Jurassic 5 — MC Chali 2na and DJ Cut Chemist — which gave Ozomatli credibility among fans of L.A.'s thriving hip-hop community.
Hip-hop is, in fact, one of the main ingredients in the Ozomatli stew, with Chali 2na verses featured on half the album’s tracks, and frequent scratching interludes by Cut Chemist. The second song of the album, "Cut Chemist Suite," demonstrates the group’s funkified, acoustic hip-hop style backed by horn riffs and melodic bass lines. It’s notable that at the same time, across the country, the Roots were also making a name for themselves as a live hip-hop band.
Despite its folkloric intro, "O Le Le" is a good example of this funk-based hip-hop, with Chali 2na rapping over a sung chorus. This track also displays Ozomatli’s penchant for changing up rhythms and genres in the middle of their songs: at the 3:12 mark, there’s a brief foray into bebop with Chali 2na rapping over a furious sax solo.
"Coming War," does something similar with an interlude at the 2:33 mark featuring the distinct sounds of the Brazilian cuica drum, while "Super Bowl Sundae" features an extended intro with a sitar and tabla drums (from North Indian classical music) before transitioning into a hip-hop song whose chorus features a relaxed reggae beat and falsetto vocals.
Other songs on the album are more Latin-oriented, displaying a wide variety of influences and genres. Standout "Cumbia de los Muertos," a cumbia-reggae fusion, pays homage to the ancestors and features a memorable Chali 2na verse. While the sung verses reference Latin traditions such as Dia de los Muertos, Chali 2na’s relates to violence and premature death in the Black community: "Soon as we're rid of society's small terrors/The sooner these teenagers don't have to be pallbearers/And carry their pals nearer to graves."
This song is immediately followed by "Donde se fueron," which opens with a percussion-heavy Cuban rumba and harmonized singing. The lyrics reference the orishas, deities in the Afro-Cuban religion known as Santería, as the singer proclaims himself a "son of Yemayá" (deity of the sea). It eventually transitions into an earthy salsa, but the last third of the song switches up the pace yet again, moving into a sort of cha cha rhythm. The group is never content to rest on its laurels, always keeping the listener guessing.
The song "Chango" provides both another reference to the orishas (Changó is the deity of the drums, thunder, and lightning), and another fascinating rhythmic change. Opening with an incredibly fast merengue, the rhythmic change comes at the 2:48 mark, where the music suddenly stops and the chorus comes back in over a slowed-way-down reggae beat. At 3:17, the merengue beat comes back in and there’s a gradual acceleration until the song reaches full speed again.
Although Ozomatli never achieved mainstream success, it did well on the Billboard Latin charts and peaked at No. 7 on Top Latin Albums chart. The band joined Carlos Santana for his Supernatural tour the following year.
Ozomatli’s second album, 2001's Embrace the Chaos, garnered more critical and commercial attention despite the line-up changes following their debut release. In fact, both their second and third album (Street Signs) broke the Billboard 200 chart and won GRAMMY Awards for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album. However, while Ozomatli’s debut album may have flown under the radar nationally, it paved the way for the group’s sound.
Ozomatli’s debut album tapped into a feeling of social change being just over the horizon. It was party music — and their live shows at the time were incredibly energetic and participatory — but it was also aspirational, and felt very much of California. It remains a favorite for many fans a quarter century later.
Photo: Jordan Strauss/WireImage.com
Ozomatli To Host Family-Friendly 'OzoKids' Event At GRAMMY Museum Latin Gallery Opening
The band's program, inspired by their 2012 album of the same name, comes to the GRAMMY Museum on Nov. 18
In 2012, Los Angeles' own Ozomatli recorded their very first kid's album, Ozomatli Presents OzoKidz.
Previously, the two-time GRAMMY-winning band had been known for meshing cumbia, salsa, hip-hop, funk and more in an upbeat, danceable fusion unique to growing up Latinx in L.A. Songs like "Cumbia del Muerto," or "Cumbia Of The Dead," off their 1998 self-titled album, was easily the soundtrack of Latin bi-cultural America during that time. Now, the song is a cumbia-American classic, continuing to bring Ozomatli's legacy to the next generation of Latinx in the U.S.
But as time went by and the band began to notice that their fans were starting to have kids, they saw an opportunity to connect with an even tinier generation.
"I think one of the great things about it for us is that we were able to really look at songwriting as a way to really get into characters," vocalist and guitarist Raul Pacheco tells the Recording Academy. "We just sat around and talked about things we went through as a kid or things you were into and just kind of associated certain styles of music with those subjects."
The 2010s album, which would become a GRAMMY-winning album, kept the band's sonic essence but also contained songs meant to teach kids how not be afraid of water, skateboarding and germs. Ultimately, the album taught the band something, too.
"It actually helped our songwriting, [to] kind of not have to be stuck to what it meant to be an adult," Pacheco said.
Now, Ozomatli are bringing their program—inspired by the OzoKidz album experience—to the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Museum on Nov. 18, the same day the Latin Music Gallery at the museum in Los Angeles is set to launch. Pacheco says the program will only continue to build the relationship Ozomatli has with the museum, the GRAMMYs and the Recording Academy.
The Recording Academy spoke with Pacheco more about how the album helped the band evolve, their workshop at the Latin Gallery unveiling, being a part of the GRAMMY Museum history, music education and more.
You are going to be a part of a kids workshop during the GRAMMY Museum Latin gallery opening. But this isn't your first rodeo with kids. Why connect with kids via an album?
We all grew up in public school systems where we learned and were introduced to music. I think that experience for us as young people is super impressionable, something we all talk about a lot, the importance of that experience for us. It really kind of makes playing music not some unattainable thing that you only see someone do in pictures or on TV or whatever. It's always been something very important to us.
I think we've always had a connection. As we've gotten older and have our own children, we got to a point where a lot of our fans were having kids ... So the idea came up to make a kid's record and we went for it. I think one of the great things about it for us is that we were able to really look at songwriting as a way to really get into characters. It actually helped our songwriting, [to] kind of not have to be stuck to what it meant to be an adult. We could just... create these different kinds of impressions that we were trying to focus on what it meant to be a kid. It was really cool to all these different kinds of subjects you go to just in a natural way as a child. I think we tried to make a record and songs that the parents wouldn't get sick of listening to a thousand times.
Was it only the themes you felt changed?
Yeah, because on that record there's a song about going to the movies, there's a song about germs that's just kind of funny. It's a little scary and funny. There's a song about being afraid to go into the water, and don't be afraid of it, just jump in. There's a song about skateboarding. So there's all these different subjects. We just sat around and talked about things we went through as a kid or things you were into and just kind of associated certain styles of music with those subjects.
What kind of experience with music did you have at school?
My first real experience with music was in the school choir and I had a very, very important teacher, Mrs. Hubbard. She was one of those teachers that was so influential in terms of really introducing children to music and she was so good at it. You don't really realize that until you're old and you can kind of go like, "Wow, this lady used to wrangle all of these kids and get them to do something some of them didn't even think they could do." There's a kind of a profound thing in that, that a lot of teachers probably experience in terms of just introducing kids to concepts or to the experiences to help them do the work that it takes to have an outcome. I think for me it was also understanding, without knowing it at the time, it takes work to do what you want to do.
You have to show up, you have to practice, you have to rehearse, you got to prep and then you got to perform. And the better you get at all that it really allows you to have better presentation. Those concepts, which you're not really sure that you're not even really aware that you're learning that, it's kind of really important ... I went on to be in a boys' choir because of her. Then I just got into rock guitar as a teenager and that kind of led to other stuff. But that first experience from her was super important.
Why work with the museum on this workshop now?
We've had a long relationship with the GRAMMY Museum. [We] performed there many times. We did a kids' presentation there ourselves. We got to perform with Booker T. there. I've seen numerous presentations there. So we have a relationship with the GRAMMYs. Doing MusiCares, which we performed at, to Harold Owens who runs MusiCares, to people who work at the GRAMMY Museum. We've won GRAMMYs. I think that all kind of makes us part of that family so we know that there's certain things that they can ask us that we're always willing to do, if possible. This is one of those things.
What can you tell us about the event on Monday?
I know that it's an important presentation. There's going to be important items there with the idea of Latino music and we're going to grab the family. We're a part of that history. We have some stuff there that they asked us to bring. I have a Tres guitar, which is a Cuban guitar, that's going to be there. That was one I played at one of the Latin GRAMMYs. They asked for a bunch of stuff from some performances that we had. For us, it's just important to be a part of that whole moment and that presentation and we're honored that they asked us. Doing what we do is just, [it's] not really work. We're going to have to show up and do what we do.
For people not aware of what Latin music is today, and specifically in Los Angeles, what is the significance of the Latin gallery opening up at the museum and specifically in L.A.?
I think that there's always been a correct criticism in terms of the separation of those worlds, [between L.A. and Latinos]. To me, to this day, it's a little hard to understand the strict separation that we have in our daily lives even though that there's all kinds of people that live in Los Angeles. When it comes to Latino L.A. and non-Latino L.A., I know there's plenty of integration in our game, but somehow in our hearts and our heads, it still seems different. I'm hoping that this is a continuation of a progress into recognizing some very obvious things about the city of Los Angeles, its own history, its own adversity, and continue to create that kind of awareness in all institutions, not just music.
I get that this is important to kind of continue that evolution of thinking, of how we look at the city. This particular showcase is going to be about music, popular music. And because it's in Los Angeles, directly is how it affects L.A. There's a lot more integration that ... [brings into] recognition of basic things that we all share and ultimately don't need to be kind of segregated in that way. I'm really very happy to be a part of the progress of that.
Flor de Toloache
Photo: Piero F Giunti
GRAMMY Museum Reveals Flor de Toloache, Angela Aguilar & More As Special Guests For Opening Of Latin Music Gallery
Christian Nodal and Ozomatli, with their OzoKids experience, will also be in attendance
Today, Nov. 6, the GRAMMY Museum, in partnership with the Latin Recording Academy, announced the performers for opening day of their brand-new Latin Music Gallery. On Nov. 18, two days before the exhibit officially opens to the public, there will be a full day programming, including special performances by Latin GRAMMY-winning mariachi group Flor de Toloache and GRAMMY- and Latin GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Raquel Sofía.
GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominee Ángela Aguilar and Latin GRAMMY winner Christian Nodal—two bright, young stars making powerful renditions of traditional Mexican music—will also be in attendance to assist with the gallery's ribbon cutting.
To celebrate the milestone 20th anniversary of the Latin GRAMMYs, the #GRAMMYMuseum is proud to present, "Latin GRAMMY, 20 Years Of Excellence." The inaugural exhibition in our newly constructed third floor opens on November 20th! https://t.co/10PCRIy1mg— GRAMMY Museum (@GRAMMYMuseum) October 21, 2019
Michael Sticka, President of the GRAMMY Museum, will also participate in the exciting day, along with Gabriel Abaroa Jr., the President and CEO of The Latin Recording Academy, which is celebrating 20 years of excellence in Latin Music this year.
Los Angeles-based GRAMMY- and Latin GRAMMY-winning rock group Ozomatli will also participate, bringing their family-friendly, educational OzoKidz experience to kick off the day. The student program is followed by an invite-only ribbon-cutting ceremony, which begins at 4 p.m., followed by the live performances.
Finally, a free, open-to-the-public evening event will run from 7–10 p.m. (see schedule below and RSVP here).
Monday, Nov. 18 | GRAMMY Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
11 a.m.–Noon: Education Program for Students with OzoKidz
4–6 p.m.: Official Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony
6–7 p.m.: Performances by Flor de Toloache and Raquel Sofía
7–10 p.m.: Free public Museum entry (first come, first served)
Spaces for the public portion of the program on Nov. 18 are given on a first-come, first-served basis. The third-floor exhibit opens to the public on Nov. 20 and will run through spring 2020.
And don't forget to catch the Ricky Martin-hosted 20th Latin GRAMMY Awards on Thurs., Nov. 14, live from Las Vegas on Nov. 14, by tuning into Univision around the world from 8-11 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. CT). You can also stay tuned to GRAMMY.com, as well as @RecordingAcad and @LatinGRAMMYs on Twitter next week to catch the biggest wins and onstage magic from the show.
Salvador Santana and Asdru Seirra
Photo by J.A. Moreno
Exclusive: Salvador Santana And Ozomatli’s Asdru Sierra Announce New Politically Charged Project RMXKNZ
With the duo's debut album set to be released this fall, the Recording Academy has your first listen to their joyful debut track, “Canvas”
If you look back on decade’s past, you could say that some of the most trying times, whether for an individual or an entire nation, have produced some of the best music. For renowned producers, songwriters and musicians Salvador Santana (son of GRAMMY-winning guitarist Carlos Santana) and Asdrubal "Asdru" Sierra (lead vocalist, trumpeter, and pianist for GRAMMY winners Ozomatli), who have announced a new collaborative project titled RMXKNZ (pronounced "remix-icans") and will release their first album this fall, the point of inspiration was the turbulent aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But what listeners shouldn't expect from the forthcoming self-titled, self-released album, due to drop during National Hispanic Heritage Month later this year, is a set of songs lamenting the state of the country. Instead, the songs on RMXKNZ serve to uplift, make you dance and inspire action. Santana and Sierra are using their new artistic platform not just to call out those to blame for the current contentious climate of society, but as a call-to-action for those who believe we can be the change we want to see.
The first song on the album, and the duo’s first-ever original song, "Canvas," is a funky, jazzy, hip-hop-tinged danceable track featuring the notable sound of Sierra’s trumpet that sounds like a call-to-action itself. Through the lyrics on "Canvas," the duo encourage listeners to look at their lives as a blank canvas with which they can design who they want to be. The coinciding music video further enhances the song's message, depicting the lively Latinx neighborhoods of East L.A. and Downtown Los Angeles and addressing the issues that affect it: women’s and abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration rights, gender inclusivity and more.
“What we wanted to do was [not] just talk about the obvious and create more problems. … We decided that…we want to just wake people up to what is going on,” says Santana.
“Everyone has a blank canvas when they walk into this world,” adds Sierra. “You could draw on it and that’s what your world becomes. It’s really about walking the walk of what you believe. About being the change.”
The songs on the genre-blending debut address the issues that continue to affect the diverse communities of the duo’s city of residence—Los Angeles—including immigration, racism, social injustice, identity and humanity. As Santana and Sierra would say, RMXKNZ is music for the world.
In an exclusive interview with the Recording Academy, Santana and Sierra discuss the making of RMXKNZ, the inspiration behind the songs and for whom the songs were written. Listen below for an exclusive first listen of the debut track "Canvas."
Let’s start from the beginning of RMXKNZ. How did you guys meet?
SALVADOR SANTANA: We met in 1999 on the Supernatural tour when Ozomatli—Asdru’s band—was touring with my father. It was in the summer, so, since I was in high school, I could go out and hang out with dad and the band. I got to meet Ozomatli, which, at the time—and still now—I was a huge fan of. … Meeting Asdru, and … just everybody that was part of Ozo, it felt like reuniting with a long-lost family. … From day one Asdru has been like an older brother to me.
ASDRU SIERRA: I remember being really young and my wife was pregnant with our first son. Obviously, there was a lot of fear and a lot of wondering what it was going to be like. A lot of [my] anxieties got calmed down when at the Gorge [Amphitheatre in Washington] I saw Sal when he was a teenager sitting in with his dad onstage. I was like, "Wow, that’s cool." … Everybody in the band had families and every time they would see us like all young in our early and mid-20s about to have babies—I guess we looked like babies to them—they all had their turn sitting us down and talking to us and letting us know what it’s like. And just helping us out.
It was actually Sal that introduced Ozomatli to his dad. He showed him the demo and that’s how we ended up hooking up with Carlos. It was all meant to be. Every time we work together, it’s like working with family.
It sounds like it was really an instant connection with you guys. How did the conversation start to work on the RMXKNZ project?
SS: It all just kind of happened organically and naturally. When I first moved into my house that I live in now—it was my new place—Asdru came over and we hung out. I just showed him what I was trying to build—my home studio and everything.
He was like, “Yo, man. I got these couple of demos that I’m working on. I think it’d be really dope if you mixed it up with some lyrics and piano stuff. Just put your fingerprints on it.”
The first song we wrote happens to be the first single, which is "Canvas." And he just played me the beat and I was just nodding my head. For Asdru and I, it either has to make [people] get up and dance. … Or it’s got to have that head nod factor. If you don’t want to dance, then you have to nod your head. So, if it doesn’t have any of those two ingredients, we don’t mess with it. Because it’s just not going to do anything for us, and that’s how we built our sound sonically was between those two things. And it started with "Canvas."
The songs on the album sound very happy and uplifting. Lyrically, there’s huge stories behind every song. What was the impetus for a lot of the songs? What was "Canvas" about and what’s the story behind that?
SS: Lyrically, at the time when we first started writing a lot of [the album], it was during and around the time of the 2016 elections. So, there was a lot on our minds. … We felt like we wanted to express how we were feeling, musically and lyrically.
But [we also wanted to keep] it palatable and not be too preachy. [We wanted to] make people dance. And if you don’t want to dance then just listen to the lyrics. Hopefully they uplift … and rearrange the narrative. At the end of the day, when people put on the record, we just want people to enjoy what we were able to create.
AS: Watching in 2016, how the world is in that moment, instead of really having a fighting spirit about it, let’s have a realization moment, and understand that we have to be the change that we want to see in the world. … It’s us walking the world as an example for our children. That’s the best thing we can do is just to be that change even though things are a little crazy. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a lifetime, it’s always been that struggle. It’s always been there. It’s just now there’s somebody out there that’s pretty blatantly being that way and it’s emboldening the evils that are in the world. The divisions rather than the similarities.
We can put on the canvas the compassion that people need to remember and need to have for humanity before we start dehumanizing everything that we don’t understand.
SS: We’re all blank canvases when we come to this planet. We’re born here. We have the opportunity to create exactly who we are. To define who we are with our canvases. … The key is to not allow anybody else to paint on your canvas and define who you are. … For us, what was inspiring about the elections and what was going on around that time … was that Asdru and I realized that it’s not about trying to control others, it’s about influencing. And what better way to influence than through music and through uplifting lyrics.
It’s for the people. It’s for everybody out there that wants a positive distraction from all the craziness that’s going on.
There’s a song on there, "Make it Betta." It sounds like a call-to-action, like you’re giving people tools through music for how they can do their own part to make the world a better place. How do you think each of us can do our own part to make sure the future canvases that come into this world aren’t corrupt or negative, but peaceful and loving?
SS: Basically, we walk around with this flame. And every single person that we meet has a pilot light. Some people’s pilot lights are out. It’s not that they’re lost or forgotten. It’s just the pilot light is out. And they just need to be ignited. And that’s our job. Especially on songs like "Make it Betta." We’re not trying to tell people what to do. We’re just reminding them of what their purpose is and what we’re all here to do, collectively. And what better way to do that than through music? Through uplifting and conscious lyrics. That was our overall mindset with creating this whole album and that song in particular.
AS: Martin Luther King [Jr.] had this quote about people that know that something is wrong, and they stay in silence just letting it happen without saying anything. … The best way we can make it better is to be those lights in darkness. To speak up when these things are happening. It doesn’t necessarily mean to go out there and cause a fight. It’s not about fighting. But to hold accountable everything that we see in this world. If that means speaking up, that’s fine. Just let evil know that you see it because only the ugliest things happen in darkness.
"Martin Luther King [Jr.] had this quote about people that know that something is wrong, and they stay in silence just letting it happen without saying anything. … The best way we can make it better is to be those lights in darkness. To speak up when these things are happening."
I want to switch gears and talk about each of your upbringings. Sal, you were raised in San Francisco. And Asdru, you were raised in Los Angeles. How do you think the environment of the cities in which you were raised shaped the music you’re making today with RMXKNZ?
SS: I was always encouraged to just understand as much as you possibly can. There’s not just one culture. It’s one world but there’s so many people and cultures and beautiful things that people offer and make up, musically and sonically. For both Asdru and I, both in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area, we just heard pretty much about everything. It’s not that we gravitated toward one music or one style or one sound, we just took a little bit from each so that we could create our own sound. And I think that’s what makes our album and collaboration so unique because you hear all of the sounds and music that inspired Asdru and I from all the cultures that make up both the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
AS: I grew up in Glassell Park in L.A. It was a small town in Northeast L.A. But I was there in the '80s before all the gentrification and everything now. Back in those days there was a lot of gang violence, there was a lot of drugs, there was a lot of poverty, but for the most part it was like maybe 10 percent of the population was about the gangs. When you would watch the movies, it was everything else. On my block everyone was a hardworking homeowner. Latinos just trying to make the best they can in the world we lived in. But again, there was a lot of gang influences and that was something that we as a community tried to deal with, you know?
Through my community, that is what defines what I do with music. … It’s a trip because in my world when I was a kid there was a lot of things going on. But the only thing that I saw was a battleground. … I saw a lot of people get shot. I guess because we’re minorities it didn’t really matter to the news or something. But with that said, it’s all these neighborhoods in L.A. that the only way that I could speak up about it was with music.
Other than preaching to the converted or singing to the same choir, we have to let somebody in the middle of America know what’s going on. The best way that I know how to do it is with music. Just to let them know that it’s just a stereotype they’re seeing. … There are a bunch of people that were cartoonists, that were artists, that were actors, that were people. What happened to the children of all these gang members? What kind of journey did they go through? The immigrants. It doesn’t always look like they’re out there trying to get your jobs. Other people are just trying to escape from whatever craziness is going on in the countries that they’re in and seeking asylum. There’s so many things going on in this world and the best way that I know how to explain it is by that same canvas. That same music. At the end of the day, I’m ultimately trying to reach the people that don’t understand it.
SS: [We want to] reach out to those that need to be woken up. They’re still asleep. They need to be awake to understand what we’re talking about. But also, to acknowledge those that want to say, what we have the opportunity to say with our platform, with our microphone and with our studio and with our ability to be able to express that.
Would you consider yourselves activists before musicians, or vice versa?
AS: I know activists. I know real ones that dedicate their lives to it. I play a little guitar but I’m not an activist. I like to say that I have been active. As activists, [people] have died, they’ve been shot at, they’ve been beaten by clubs by the police. … As a member of the human race I had to be involved somehow. When real activists would actually call me to support the cause I would show up. But it’s hard to call myself an activist.
SS: Being an activist is not a part-time gig. You’re either in it or you’re not in it. For me, it’s just about being a musician and supporting activists that we know. … So as opposed to necessarily calling us activists, we are of service to those in the community to be of service.
We’re going to continue through our music to just wake people up and make sure that they stay woke because that’s really what it is at the end of the day.
The activists you’re talking about that are out there doing the work full-time need people like you who have the platform to be able to continue to spread that message in a different way.
SS: Exactly. Both of my grandfathers and Asdru’s were living in a different time and era where it was illegal just to be who you were. The skin tone, where you come from, and how you immigrated here. It was illegal just to be you and that is just crazy to me. For me at the end of the day that’s why I’m just so grateful to be able to use our platform, our talent, our passion, which is music, to be able to express and abolish that old way of thinking.
AS: We answered the call to arms. We show up at the marches. But calling ourselves activists, there’s a certain humility about that.
SS: We’re musicians that aspirer to inspire. That’s who we are.
What’s the meaning behind the name RMXKNZ?
AS: If you look at who we are—both Sal and I—we’re of Mexican descent. [But also] there’s Irish in my family. I have freckles. And obviously Salvador has African-American in him. Mexico is very similar to the U.S. in many ways. It’s not just the natives who are the original Mexicans. … It kind of plays into wordplay about doing remixes and stuff and the fact that we’re Mexicans, with the "mix." It kind of makes sense. The world is a lot bigger and smaller at the same time.
SS: It’s paying homage to who we are and highlighting who we are. But at the same time, it’s also leaving room for how we’ve evolved. We’re not just Mexican. We’re a little bit of this; we’re a little bit of that. It shows in the music. It shows where we come from and our upbringing.
AS: We also don’t want to limit ourselves either, just because we’re of Latino/Mexican/Latinx decent. Just because we’re that doesn’t mean we only do Latin things. It could be from Africa. It could be from the Middle East. It could be Mongolian.
It sounds like that ties in to what you were saying earlier about educating people. Letting them know there’s many different types of people all over the world.
SS: We didn’t mean to, but I think in making this record, we stumbled upon a new genre of music. So, when people say, "What type of music is RMXKNZ?" Asdru and I, we play life. It’s life music. All the music that is in our lifetime that we have loved and just continued to dance to, nod our heads to, inspire to. Is life cumbia? Yeah. Is life Afrobeat? Yeah. Is life hip-hop? Yeah, it’s all that stuff. That’s what we play.
You’re calling this music for the people. It’s heavily influenced by the current climate of society. Who did you write these songs for?
AS: For me, and I think this resonates for Sal, everything we do echoes back to our children. Whatever we want to change is what we want to do. For me, I just want to create a world in which my children can live comfortably long after I’m gone.
SS: When my son was born, I literally watched the future being born. And like what Asdru’s saying, it makes us now as parents realize, man we gotta set up the future right. We gotta make sure we teach these kids right so that they’re good for whatever they’re going to encounter in the future. To make sure that they know that they can have either control or especially influence in what happens in the future. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
Salvador Santana and Asdru Sierra are involved with the following causes and non-profit organizations: Change.org petition, and Letters of Love to Kids, along with Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance, two groups at the forefront of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit To Honor Dave Gahan, Kevin Lyman
Depeche Mode frontman and Vans Warped Tour founder to be honored for commitment to addiction and recovery process
The seventh annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert will honor Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan and Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman at Club Nokia in Los Angeles on May 6.
Gahan will be honored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his dedication and support of the MusiCares MAP Fund, and for his commitment to helping other addicts with the addiction and recovery process. Lyman will be the recipient of MusiCares' From the Heart Award for his unconditional friendship and dedication to the mission and goals of the organization.
Hosted by comedian Greg Behrendt, the evening will feature a special performance by Gahan with producer/musician Vincent Jones and bassist Martyn LeNoble, as well as performances by alternative rock band Jane's Addiction, two-time GRAMMY winners Ozomatli and a special acoustic performance by Paramore. Adam Bravin and Justin Warfield from She Wants Revenge will DJ live during dinner.
"Our annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit focuses attention on the disease of addiction and the challenges and rewards of the path to recovery," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy and MusiCares. "While substance abuse issues are prevalent in every sector of society, the music industry is a particularly visible microcosm of these struggles, and it is critical that we take this opportunity to generate resources that will provide help to members of the music community in need. Both Dave and Kevin have been steadfast supporters of the MusiCares MAP Fund and champions of recovery, so it is very meaningful that we will be honoring them this year."
"The MusiCares MAP Fund is an unbelievably important and courageous organization," said Gahan. "They continue to make a momentous commitment to the music community, and I am proud to support their ongoing work in raising awareness and funds."
"My work in the music industry continues to be extremely rewarding," said Lyman. "But I've also seen the devastation that addiction brings to artists, crew members and others who work in this business, and that is why I wholeheartedly support the work of MusiCares. For the past two years, they've sent staff members on the road with the Vans Warped Tour to bring information and resources directly to music people, and I know they provide similar resources to artists, festivals and awards shows around the country."
All proceeds will benefit the MusiCares MAP Fund, which provides members of the music community access to addiction recovery treatment regardless of their financial situation.
For more information on the MusiCares MAP Fund benefit, including ticket information, click here.