Black Star, Ozomatli Rally Against Juvenile-Crime Initiative

Hip-hop duo, Latin groove collective play new material at benefit show with Meshell Ndegeocello.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Hip-hop duo Black Star and Latin groove collective Ozomatli previewed songs from their upcoming albums Friday at a benefit show for opponents of a California ballot initiative that would treat some juvenile offenders as adults.

(To view a photo gallery of this event, click here.)

The concert, which also featured singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, raised money to fight Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime initiative, which the state's voters will decide on Tuesday (March 7). In addition to changing the state's penal code to treat some juveniles as adults, the measure would increase penalties for gang-

related offenses and decrease to $400 the amount of property damage required for a felony vandalism conviction.

"Propositions [such as] 21 are backwards," Ozomatli percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi said at a press conference earlier in the day. "We need to bring out things that are more on the positive side — education and focusing on youth to change for the future."

Proponents of the measure believe it will decrease juvenile and gang-related crime, while opponents fear it unfairly targets poor and minority youth and will take funding away from education.

Outside the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium where the show was held, activists passed out petitions and fliers and urged line-bound attendees to vote. Handwritten posters bore statistics comparing California's spending on schools and prisons. Between sets, representatives of activist groups Critical Resistance, Barrios Unidos and Schools Not Jails rallied some 2,000 concert-goers to fight the measure.

Self-Determination

"Yo! Speakin' about Prop. 21/ The revolution has just begun!" Black Star's Talib Kweli freestyled during "Astronomy (8th Light)" (

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Black_Star/Astronomy.ram">RealAudio excerpt), off the New York twosome's debut, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star (1998). "Keep on keepin' on and keep strong. ... The people united will never be defeated!"

Mos Def and Kweli paced the stage, rapping their positive, proactive lyrics tag-team style while their DJ Hi-Tek spun beats on the turntables.

Mos Def sang on tunes such as "Rock N Roll," from his 1999 solo album, Black on Both Sides. "Hip Hop," also from Black on Both Sides, chided hip-hop culture for excessive violence. Black Star split the audience in two to help on the chorus: "Where were you the day hip-hop died?/ Is it too early to mourn?/ Is it too late to rise?"

Hi-Tek laid down a heavy, wah-guitar riff on "The Express," the first single from Kweli's and his upcoming album, Train of Thought, due in May.

Hi-Tek and Kweli led a call-and-response on "K.O.S. (Determination)," urging the crowd to seek "knowledge of self" and self-determination.

Latin Beats And Kid Stuff

Los Angeles 10-piece Ozomatli mixed in a few new songs with material from their self-titled 1998 debut. The band paraded through the auditorium on its way to the stage, stopping to rally fans in a drum circle before opening with "Como Ves" (RealAudio excerpt), from Ozomatli.

On the fast-hitting "1-2-3-4," a new song that may appear on its next album, the band's percussion section laid out Latin beats while DJ Kid WIK scratched. The group jumped around playfully; rapper Kanetic Source worked the crowd.

DJ Cut Chemist and rapper Chali 2na, who were replaced by Kid WIK and Kanetic Source, are pursuing other projects, but will appear on the next Ozomatli record, Yamaguchi said.

Another song, "Alma," was written in the Mexican banda style. Pacheco played an acoustic bajo sexto guitar, while the whole band switched between melodic and percussive instruments and sang together in Spanish.

"Dos Cosas" had a Carnival vibe. Pacheco and trumpeter Asdru Sierra shared harmonies, while the band's two saxophonists switched to clarinets. The rest of the band moved to percussion to supply a big, parade-ground African bunta rhythm.

The band brought three small children onstage to help with the percussion on "Super Bowl Sundae" as well as the traditional-sounding "La Misma Canción" and a few bars of "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt."

Beyond 40 Acres And A Mule

Singer/songwriter and bassist Ndegeocello led her band — guitar, drums, keyboards and a backup bassist — through a career-spanning set of laid-back jazzy funk. She opened with "I'm Diggin' You (Like an Old Soul Record)," from her 1993 debut album, Plantation Lullabies.

Ndegeocello, dressed in baggy black pants, bomber jacket and a Kangol cap, then sang an ode to the civil rights movement, featuring the lyrics, "Remember back in the day/ When all you wanted was your 40 acres and a mule?"

Drummer Oliver Gene Lake left the beat wide open while the singer begged a lover on "Faithful" (RealAudio excerpt), from her 1999 LP, Bitter.

After the band jammed on an instrumental, Ndegeocello sang "The Way" (RealAudio excerpt), from Peace Beyond Passion (1996). The song condemns organized religion — and, in keeping with the event, the political establishment — for rejecting outsiders:

"They say you're the way, the light/ The light is so blinding/ Your followers condemn me, your words used to enslave me. ... While the so-called chosen make war/ So many suffer in the name of God, their faith at a closed door."