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Ozomatli's Ulises Bella on Performing at L.A. Bernie Sanders Rally: Activism Is 'Part of the Band's DNA'

Bernie Sanders, Ozomatli
Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders stands on stage with Ozomatli after he spoke at a rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Olympic Plaza on Saturday June 04, 2016 in Los Angeles. 

"If you know the history of Ozomatli, you'll know that we've always been about this," the saxophonist/clarinetist tells Billboard.

Hillary Clinton wasn't the only one rallying and holding concerts in Los Angeles ahead of Tuesday's (June 7) California primary; Bernie Sanders also came together with celebrities and supporters at an event this past weekend, where celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Shailene Woodley, Dick Van Dyke and Grammy-winning band Ozomatli showed their support for the Vermont senator and his political revolution.

Unlike Clinton's star-studded fundraising concert on Monday with performances by Ricky Martin, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Christina Aguilera and ticket prices ranging from $45 to $5,000, Sanders' event, held at the Los Angeles Coliseum, was free and open to the public.

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Billboard talked to Ozomatli's saxophonist/clarinetist Ulises Bella about the group's participation at the Sanders rally and why the band doesn't shy away from political issues.

Did the invitation come from Bernie Sanders' camp, or was this something that you were looking to be part of? 

Actually, it was something that we really wanted to do and we had been pursuing an opportunity like this. Personally I feel that he is talking about things that I haven't heard another politician talk about ever. It's really refreshing and it's really hopeful. A lot of people have tried to label him as crazy and as a communist, but I'm looking forward to this new generation's vote and am not swayed by old-school Cold War fears.

Is there a specific issue the band sees eye-to-eye with Sanders on? 

Pretty much his views on free education and health care. Giving kids an education and health care is not gonna bring about the Russian Revolution of 1917. Let's be real: Health care and education are two really important things, and instead of thinking that we're spending money on these free-loading millennials or that we're spending money on these poor people's health care, we should start thinking that we're investing money in our own population.

To all the eligible Latinos to vote who have not registered, what would your message be?

If they don't manifest the muscle of making things change -- we as Latinos, or however you want to label us, they say will be the majority by 2040, but we have to get our sh-- together. The face of the United States is changing, that's a reality. Between that reality and us having the first African-American president, it brought up some very ugly things and now it's manifesting with people like Donald Trump and hate crimes.

Throughout the 21 years that Ozomatli has been together, the band has been known for their political activism and pro-peace demonstrations and using music to talk about political issues. How important has that side been for Ozomatli?

If you know the history of Ozomatli, you'll know that we've always been about this. It's about activism and caring about social justice and education; that's part of the band's DNA. We've always cared about that stuff. With this particular election, the level of crazy is now through the roof. 


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