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Performing in 4 days
The rainy skies didn't stand a chance of dampening the spirits in Central Park on Tuesday night, not with Ozomatli and the New York Pops joining forces on the same stage. The two groups combined to create a unique and memorable night of music for the SummerStage series, and those who braved the storm were rewarded with a fun evening filled with incredible artistry from both groups.
Ozomatli hails from Los Angeles, and their music is a fusion of countless genres and styles – hip-hop, salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B, Jamaican ragga and Indian rage, just to name some. Add to that the largest independent pops orchestra in the United States and the only professional symphonic orchestra in NYC that specializes in popular music, and you are guaranteed some magic on stage. That's exactly what those in attendance got.
The members of Ozomatli (Justin Poree, Jiro Yamaguchi, Willy Abers, Ulises Bella, Raul Pacheco, Asdru Sierra, and Mario Calire) came out to rabid support from many of their devoted fans. The weather hadn't gotten too severe yet, but several umbrellas, ponchos, and raincoats were scattered in front of the stage. They saluted the crowd, saying that in L.A. everyone freaks out when it rains. New Yorkers, on the other hand, can handle the weather.
The two groups started off with some rousing numbers, combining the horns and percussion of Ozomatli with the strings and complete orchestra sound of the Pops. Conductor Steven Reineke had his orchestra playing with as much energy as the band in front, and all of the extra instruments contributed to a much more vast sound. It made the rhythmic beats pulse that much harder throughout the crowd, and it accompanied the vocals perfectly.
The most surprising and entertaining part of the set for me was Justin Poree, whose rapping contributions really got the SummerStage crowd going. He would maneuver to the front of the stage after banging out some percussion and bust out some terrific rhymes with a ton of energy. The horns behind him only fueled the fire more as Poree engaged the crowd. The rest of the band added impeccable stage presence as they threw in some synchronized dance steps and wore infectious smiles the entire time.
About halfway through the show, the skies really started to open up. That didn't deter those in the crowd from really letting loose. To match the music, there was rampant salsa dancing abound. Everyone was having such a good time that they didn't really mind getting wet, and all of the dancing made me want to take some salsa lessons.
Another highlight of the night was the inclusion of students from the Harlem School of the Arts. Six young men took the stage with Ozomatli and the New York Pops and played some really awesome music. Young Matthew Whitaker, who played the piano and also happened to be blind, stole the show as he jammed and improvised. He garnered probably the loudest ovation of the night after he finished his solo, and Reineke was blown away by how good the 11-year-old was. “I was just told that the young man on the keys is only 11 years old. Are you kidding me? That's ridiculous!”
The positive vibes that the music generated were much more powerful than the inclement weather. Even after the show ended, the patrons screamed for more as the rain continued to fall. As I was walking out of the show, I heard the percussion start up again and the howl of the crowd. Oxomatli sang about the “After Party” during the show, and it sounded like they were giving everyone just a little taste.