UCLA’s student-run Jazz Reggae Festival is a Memorial Weekend tradition. Thousands of music lovers scatter the Bruin Intramural field in colorful attire with their favorite blanket in-hand to commence in the 24-year-old celebration.
The festival reflected a mosaic of diversity and culture that proliferated throughout the crowd. Music lovers of all ages and ethnic backgrounds flooded the lawn early to stake their patch of grass paradise closest to the stage –precious real estate. By the time each headliner performs, the field will be jam packed as far as the food vendors near the festival’s entrance. A new addition to the festival included a VIP and Deluxe section. This was a great alternative for those who wanted to forgo the ant farm crowds for an extra cost of $30-$50. These sections included free food and tent privileges closer to the stage.
It wasn’t always this way. In recent years, Sunday’s original Jazz day began a subtle, yet permanent makeover. Now Jam day, Sunday features more hip-hop and R&B fusion. While loyal music lovers and the traditional gatherers still make the core of the crowd, the new line-ups are attracting a larger audience of hipsters.
The Jam Day attendance also continues to grow with the consistent booking of A-list performers who tread between the lines of more than one music genre, such as artists like Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip and Bilal. The festival stays true to shining the spotlight on up-and-coming artists like Quadron, Foreign Exchange and Tha Boogie. The most notably rising star is Nneka. the Nigerian born singer captivated the audience with her powerful revolutionary messages. She will be opening for Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives tour.
True reggae lovers were given their money’s worth with Monday’s line-up. Barrington Levy , a festival veteran, gave an electrifying set as well as Cham who had the crowd waving flags from every Caribbean nation when he performed “Ghetto Story.” Etana also stunned the crowd with her wide vocal range and perfect mix of upbeat and spiritual songs.
But the crowd was anxiously counting down the minutes leading up to the headline performances by Nas and Damian Marley fresh off their new album Distant Relatives. Among the many old school hits, Nas performed a few highlights from previous albums such as his 1996 hit single with Lauryn Hill, “If I Ruled the World,” and Damian performed his 1996 Grammy-Award winning, “Welcome to Jamrock.” Each artist gave a lengthy set before memorizing the crowd with lyrics from their new collaboration that focuses more on uplifting the community, health and self-actualization rather than the stereotypical commercial messages of cars, clothes, jewelry and misogyny.
In 2006, Nas and Damian dropped (The Road to Zion), seamlessly intertwining the fusion of reggae and hip-hop. With hip-hop’s roots thriving in the early Jamaican dance halls in New York, its no surprise the two styles compliment each other. The two come together again for a revolutionary, and uplifting album filled with positive messages aimed toward the motherland. The album is more than just two musical geniuses reuniting for another stellar album, but a way to raise attention to struggles in Africa. Proceeds from the album will benefit education programs in the Congo.
“I didn’t want it to sound like something that would be typical of me, neither typical of Nas,” said Damian Marley, who produced much of the album. “But something where you can still see how there’s a middle ground in the music. But where you can still hear something that is reminiscent of either of us… It’s been really fun. Cause we’ve been going in the booth together. Especially as a lyricist, it’s really like iron sharpen iron. You can’t slack off right now. It’s a great learning experience for me too.” And that experience extends to young listeners who will surely be enlightened and educated about the shared cultural legacy of Africa, America, and the Caribbean.
“The whole process is gonna be fun,” Nas adds. “I think we can have fun helping people. When I think about things we wanna do with this album, it’s just limitless.”
The festival is still a summer treasure of Westside Los Angeles that attracts around 30,000 people a year. From procurement of artists to the on-site coordination, the festival continues to stay true to its student-run format. To find out more about how they do it, check out our Q&A with UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival Executive Producer Jesse Sachs.
Examiner: How do the students find the funding to bring in all of these A-list artists?
Jesse: There is funding from the University but it is also funded like any other concert promotion venture, with ticket sales, vendor sales, sponsorships, etc… The festival is not for profit. We work as hard as we can to keep the tickets prices reasonable and accessible.
Examiner: How do you decide which artists to go after?
Jesse: We come up with a wishlist in the beginning of the year and then we begin inquiries to artists and see who will be around and who’s down for the festival.
Examiner: When do you start preparing for the festival?
Jesse: We start preparing for the festival in the beginning of the school year.
Examiner: Who is on your wishlist for next year?
Jesse: Stevie Wonder, Sizzla, Steel Pulse, Herbie Hancock, the list is very long.
Examiner: Do you have to be a UCLA student to get involved?
Jesse: Yes, the Cultural Affairs Commission is an office of the UCLA student government. We do accept volunteers for the days of that aren’t students.
Examiner: How has participating in this event helped you?
Jesse: This festival has been the best thing that happened to me in college. I’ve always loved music and wanted to be a part of bringing it to people, but to be able to work with and present artists that have been my lifetime heroes at my young age is a dream come true. It’s an all around amazing experience to be a part of this festival.
Examiner: Who are you excited to see?
Jesse: I have seen most of the artists on the line up and they are all electrifying performers. I am hoping that Mr. Saadiq and Q-Tip perform some of their songs together, which are among my favorite of both of their catalogs. I am excited to see the collaboration between Nas and Damian as well. They are both legendary artists on their own and this Distant Relatives project is heavy. I am also excited to see some of our up and comers like Quadron out of Denmark, Nneka out of Nigeria, and Tha Boogie out of Rancho Cucamonga. I’m excited to see how the show flows and how the crowd reacts to such a lineup of quality performers.
For more information visit www.jazzreggaefestival.com