Interactive Travel Map|Text the Secretary|Trip PageAbout the Author: Gregory W. Pfleger serves in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai. Watch video of the concert on YouTube.
I'm tense. This is our first time working with the excellent Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts, but to have our first collaboration to be such a large project is nerve-wracking. After two local college bands warm up the crowd, Ozomatli appears. Heeding our Mandarin-speaking U.S. student emcee's advice, students rush up to the stage and from the first downbeat begin bouncing and grooving along with the band. I begin to feel it -- the weight being lifted. Ozo has the audience hooked. Those who missed the initial rush to the front immediately stand, and no one sits back down for 90 plus minutes.
Watching from backstage, I can see how the band and the audience begin to feed off each other. Raúl Pacheco on guitar takes of his sunglasses, and you can see the excitement in his eyes playing for a crowd who came with no pretensions, no agenda, only a desire to have fun. Will-Dog Abers gets an idea into his head, grabs a large wooden crate on wheels out of nowhere, jumps on top, and Justin Poree and Jiro Yamaguchi wheel him around the stage while he's laughing and playing bass. Justin trusts the crowd enough to try crowd surfing not once, but twice.
One group of invited guests in choice seats in the middle of the auditorium -- young migrant workers' children who participate in a music enrichment program through a local NGO (Jiu Qian) -- bop and move to the music, gleefully shouting when encouraged to by Ozo. You can still see the happiness on their faces from a pre-show jam session with the band, where Mario Calire helped one after another wail on the drum kit. Autistic guests from a local NGO (Shanghai Blue Harbor House) are on their feet, one with the crowd laughing and smiling. One of them, who their escort says rarely speaks, takes full advantage of a post-show visit backstage to stand at attention, proudly announce his name, and shake Asdrubal Sierra's hand.
After 90 minutes, tired, but not ready to call it quits, Ozo members grab their random percussion instruments, move downstage to a roar from the crowd and jump down. Swarmed by screaming college girls and awed guys, they begin moving through the crowd, samba-ing their way through as many sections as they can before exiting through the rear doors to the large foyer outside. Under a beautiful and quite large mobile made to resemble origami swans, our pied piper band gather a crowd of students around them. Word spreads that they didn't just leave, they're playing outside! Students come running from all exits. A crowd builds, security is dubious, but the local Chinese foreign affairs office representative is standing next to me shouting, "This is great!"
It takes Ulises Bella over 20 minutes to extract himself from his adoring fans eager for autographs and photos.
On the bus back to the hotel, the band is exhausted, but happy. And students are still hanging around to catch a glimpse.
Forget about jet lag. Ozomatli just proved why they truly are cultural ambassadors for the United States.
Related Entry:U.S. Band Ozomatli Rocks Shanghai Expo