Each year with the official start of summer, I look for new music to rock out to, roll bounce with and re-play as part of my summer playlist. So, I was on a mission to find some sounds that fit all these categories. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I attended the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival which was the perfect opportunity to discover something new and be inspired by some seasoned artists.
Nearly a dozen acts took the stage on a sunny Saturday for Jam Day the during Memorial Day Weekend playing to an anticipated crowd of 30,000. This year’s theme for the student-run festival was “A Culture of Change.” Upon arrival it was relatively easy to go through a bag check and enter onto the Intramural Field. Festival goers arrived with parasols, blankets and bottles of water to keep hydrated. White tents paralleled the north, south and west sides of the fields. On the south side, there were a plethora of food vendors selling everything from sweet corn, jerk chicken, peach cobbler to fresh squeezed lemonade. Some vendors sold out while others managed long lines the entire day. On the west side of the field, t-shirts, cd’s and artists’ paraphernalia could be purchased. On the north side of the field, tent after tent vendors sold reggae inspired apparel, jewelry and art. Whether, one came for the music, the vendors or for a little outside fun there was plenty to make a day at UCLA well worth it.
One big change the festival continues to support is helping participating vendors go green while at the fest. Pitchers of water were amply supplied instead of water bottles. There was also a waste and recycling program on site as well as providing monetary incentives for vendors cutting down on Styrofoam use. The green initiative continued to the JRF stage and lights ran on a bio-diesel rating greater than 20% higher than industry standard. From among the lineup, I chose artists whose lyrics and presence moved me and the crowd. Some even inspired me to go home and pick up my own guitar and just download everything they had available. I’m hoping that you’ll feel the same.
True to his bio, Mateo is an artist on a mission. Every since he left a cushy job in New York to playing as a studio music at Kings Records he’s pursued the realization of his musical potential. When Mateo took the stage, the sound of his dramatic but rhythmic melody on his signature single complicated caught the crowd’s attention and mine. And, that’s not because he was easy on the eyes. Complicated which was also the moniker on his tee tells the honest story of an unintended love affair. He showed his vocal skills with effortless ability with swift changes in vocal pitch throughout the single. He knew how to punch his words so that the emotion hit right where the song took on speed or soften his tone to achieve a melodic chorus that had the crowd singing along. I believe that everyone has music in them, and music can bring people together, said Mateo. As he continued with songs “oohh N love” and “Human” the crowd stuck with him as he showed that neither he nor his lyrics were a one-hit wonder.
When Nino Moschella came on the stage, it seemed like the weather got a little bit hotter. But, in actuality, I think the crowd and I were just experiencing the heat Moschella and his band brought with the selection of songs from his recent Boomshadow. Boomshadow is a made-up word to a character, Nino and some friends came up with nearly a decade ago. However, don’t be fooled, nothing about him and his band is imaginary. With songs like Time of Day, Continue to Call, he proved that he’s the real thing. Since the womb soul, funk and blues music is what I listened to. I believe we each have the power to self-express and this sound won’t go away, said Moschella. As long as he continues creating music inspired by his influencers – Sly Stone, Prince, and Joni Mitchell – I’d have to agree.
The first time I heard folk-soul singer Ayo, it was over the airwaves in an Italian hotel while I was on a 3 month Euro-Trip. At the time, I didn’t know who was but the insistent pleading on the song Down on my Knees made me feel like she and I had something in common. It wasn’t until journey took me to Rome, that I discovered her face and name. When she took the stage with her guitar and band, her influences “American soul, reggae and Afro beat” immediately shined through.
Music opens all doors. You must stay open and not be scared of being touched. When the crowd and audience are open, there’s no shame and it gives me confidence and is how I grow. “I’d like for people to take my music for what it is, not what it could be,” said Ayo.
How could you go wrong listening to a jazz band whose biggest influence is Fela Kuti and Sonny Rollins? You can’t. The Pangea Collective (PC), formed after Will Magid traveled to Ghana and fell in love with African music. Inspired by what he discovered, he returned to the States and invited his friends “many UCLA alumni” to form the collective. We felt the music and related. Any music that has tradition, authenticity and a good spirit is primal and it rubs off, said PC member Josh Duron who plays drums and does vocals. Once they played their single Nadia – a feel good beat akin to island jazz – was an instant crowd pleaser. I felt like their music was traveling through an invisible conduit reaching my soul with lightning speed. I grooved under the sun as I watched nearly a dozen musicians play just as many instruments. I felt like a ton of loving hands were embracing me. I felt the love. You will too.
Those looking for a new group to get amped to found it in self-proclaimed b-boys, Thes One and Double K from People Under the Stairs. As soon as the duo hit the stage they brought their underground energy to the mike on songs like Acid Raindrops and a crowd favorite, San Francisco Nights. The latter felt like a summer anthem in the vein of Will Smith summertime. It was summer time alright and this duo brought the heat. While listening to their music I felt like I was back in my hometown in L.A. I wanted to suspend a 60’s Chevy Impala, let it bounce on its wheels while I leaned back and listened to some original lyrics. Know what I mean. These guys are definitely playlist worthy.
She performed a 45 minute set including songs from New Emerykah Part One and Two. She didn’t leave the stage without singing a medley of favorites like Tyrone, Bag Lady, On & On and I Want You. And, when it was all said and done, I walked away happy and in a bright mood here’s to a great summer of listening music.