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Songs of the L.A. River with Ozomatli

Ozomatli performs at Red Bull Soundclash Dallas Mike Arzt/Red Bull Photofiles

Sometimes, it could be difficult to rally a community behind a good cause, but the City of Los Angeles has found a creative and innovative way to motivate youth to take part in the L.A. River Day of Service.

In an ongoing effort to beautify the L.A. River, as well as the surrounding parks and neighborhoods, the office of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa has teamed up with local favorite and Grammy Award-winning urban rock fusion band Ozomatli to give teenagers the opportunity to have their voice -- and music -- heard through a contest called “Songs of the L.A. River.”

“There are many people in Los Angeles that want to get involved in their neighborhoods, but don’t know how. There are others who don’t realize that their skills sets and gifts can make a difference in someone’s life,” Rafael Gonzalez, Chief Service Officer for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood & Community Services, explains. “Ozomatli’s music has an inherent message that we can all make a difference in our own special way. That’s the way we see the L.A. River Day of Service … that we can all make a difference in a way that comes natural to us.

Promoting a Healthier L.A. River

All throughout the month of April, aspiring musicians between the ages of 6 and 18 were given the chance to submit an original piece of music that in some way incorporates the L.A. River. The winners will get to play their composition live with Ozomatli at the L.A. River Day of Service on April 30.

“The City of L.A. is promoting a healthier L.A. River as a key to a healthy city. They have organized a city wide clean-up effort coinciding with earth day/month celebrations,” Raul Pacheco, guitarist and vocalist of Ozomatli says. “Last year, we were awarded Ozomatli Day by the city, [so] we decided to combine these events into a unique component of the L.A. City River project. Ozomatli and others organized interested students to write and record a song about the L.A. River and what it means to them. We are performing for the volunteers of the River clean-up efforts and will perform a few of the presented songs on stage.”

Even the song submissions that aren’t selected for perform at the concert will get a chance to shine, as those entries will be posted online at and

While the contest serves as a creative outlet to get involved, it also allows different voices from all over the city to have their voice heard. “In the spirit of storytelling, the ‘Songs of the L.A. River’ project will involve young people to share their unique experiences with the L.A. River through music,” Gonzalez says. “Many times we only hear from certain segments of our community and miss out on other voices that are just as important.”

Giving It A Shot

Thus far, the music fusion and volunteerism crossover effort has already seen a large number of song submissions and more continue to pile in. But despite having a chance to perform with the band, the guys from Ozomatli are just excited that youth are taking the contest seriously and putting themselves out there.

“I think the biggest step for young people is to try, so giving it a shot, understanding what it takes to write a song and to get encouragement from adults a round you is key,” Pacheco says. “It can be the first step in the pursuit of a music career.”

Aside from the concluding afternoon concert featuring Ozomatli and the winning entrants, the morning portion of the L.A. River Day Of Service will consist of an assortment of service projects, eco-education, and improving neighborhood and bankside sites along the river.

Though the river efforts and music might be uniting people together, the afternoon is a microcosm to the overall vision. “The L.A. River Day of Service will bring community awareness to the Los Angeles River and watershed issues by mobilizing volunteers city-wide through service and civic engagement,” Gonzalez states. “What’s happening with the L.A. River Day of Service is what we envision happening all across the City. Through the Mayor’s ‘We Serve L.A.’ volunteer campaign, we see service playing a role in preventing young people from dropping out of high school, reducing poverty levels and greening our communities. That is the power of volunteerism and service and it begins with each and every one of us.”

Catch Ozomatli performing live at on May 4, 2011

For more from Bear Frazer follow him on Twitter: @BearFrazer





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