Recently, poets and authors, Matt Sedillo, David Romero and Lee Ballinger joined visionary artist Ulises Bella of the band Ozomatli for an interview in Bell, California, by the L.A. River.
Matt, David, Lee: Tell us a little bit about yourself where you’re from
Ulises: I grew up here in this area southeast, L.A., in Bell, California. At a very early age in sixth grade I was getting bused. My bus went through South Central Jefferson High, all over Koreatown. So constantly people from all over the world were on my bus. It was like a funky thing of the mix of rich and poor, the mix of classes, the mix of ethnicities and culture. In a weird way, it prepared me for the tasks at hand.
M, D, L: What do you think of these attacks on music education?
UB: I am a product of the public school education system. All of Ozomatli came out of public school systems with music programs. It could bring joy in your life. It is really sad. There could be the next Jimi Hendrix in this hood. As a band and as individual, I am really a fan of public music education and public education in general.
M, D, L: Please speak a little about how the band got together.
UB: The catalyst was that Will Dog, our bass player and our original drummer, were in the conservation corp. Now, this particular group of workers tried to unionize and got fired in the process. And they occupied the building. And though they lost their jobs they maintained the rights to the building until the end of the lease. Every weekend they threw parties to raise money. We did like a year of free gigs. Just 15 dudes would show up. It was like a jam session. And these sounds blended so well.
M, D, L: Politically, have you been following the electoral campaign? Why is Trump doing so well?
UB: It’s the changing face of America. A lot of fear and lack of historical knowledge. California, Arizona, Texas, they are complaining about Mexicans. I don’t have a magic elixir to make people stop worrying about this. But this is not just an American thing. Look what is happening in Europe and that little boy that washed up on the beach. I don’t know if this is our next step in evolution but we all have to realize the borders are imaginary. Birds migrate when they are threatened. Why would human beings be any different?
M, D, L: What’s the role of the artist moving forward?
UB: I usually take my cues from the people. One of the biggest marches (right after we went to the demonstration) we recorded Temperatura because we were so inspired that the people shut down the city. Things are changing so fast, but more than ever, the world is connected in ways it never was. I really think there are three things that should not be for profit. Healthcare, education and they shouldn’t incarcerate people. And don’t tell me we don’t have the resources cause that’s a myth.