Q-Tip at UCLA

*Los Angeles – Memorial Day Weekend is first and foremost is a day to remember and honor in a special way those who have died in defense of our country.

Many people from all over California as well as people from nearby states have now come to  associate Memorial Day Weekend with a visit to the beautiful, campus of UCLA for the JazzReggae Festival presented by SCION.

My unofficial guess was that roughly 32,000 people were in attendance over the two days of the festival. These are not official attendance numbers. For the first time in the 24 years of the festival, it was completely sold out for both days.

The festival organizers continues its motto of “Bringing together some of the most prominent musicians to celebrate hip-hop, jazz, reggae, and soul music on one stage.”  

As stated earlier, the festival draws an unprecedented diverse crowd, to enjoy two days of good music, timeless arts, and eclectic cuisine in a nice atmosphere. This is the largest student run festival in the country.

The weather forecast finally called for some warm weather to unofficially kick off the start of summer. Residents were happy to have about some consistent warm weather for a change.

The state of California was heating up, while the UCLA Latin Jazz Band was heating up the stage with some smoking hot Latin Jazz. Dr. Bobby Rodriquez and the talented students kicked off the festival with a couple of tunes “Chili con Carne” by Kenny Burrell and a rousing version of “Tin Tin Dao” by Chano Pozo. Both tunes featured a great solo by Carmen Bozina on flute. I wished that they could have performed several more songs, or came on later in the afternoon.

Fernando Pullum is an institution in Los Angeles as a music educator. He always brings a talented group of students to perform on a major stage before a large appreciative crowd. Listening from a distance, one would not know that these were students. They all sound like seasoned professionals and carry themselves like professional on and off the stage. The Fernando Pullum High School All-Stars performed a flawless set of songs by Erykah Badu. Their short but entertaining set consisted of “Next Lifetime,” “Windowseat,” “Bag Lady,” “and “Danger.” The group’s performance is a result of UCLA’s Music Partnership Program. This program sends students out to underserved public schools in Los Angeles who have lost their music programs. The students teach and mentor at schools in order to instill music in the next generation of students who have been deprived of this educational and extracurricular opportunity. JazzReggae Festival has pledged their help in the continuation of the Music Partnership Program.

In between acts, DJ Marlon Fuentes and DJ AMPLIVE played some soulful tunes so that there wasn’t much downtown between live sets. Jam Day was partially hosted by Anthony Valadez and ZION-I, Zumbi.

Jam Day also featured some wonderful sets performed by Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime and THA Boogie. Tha Boogie delivered an interesting set of originals with “Go To Work,” “Peter Parker,” “Lonelay,” and “Running.” Quadron is making a name for themselves on the International music scene. They performed an impressive set of originals “Buster Keaton,” “Average Fruit,” “Slippin’,” and “Jeans.” You can catch Quadron in a free in store performance at Amoeba in Hollywood. Check www.amoeba.com for specific date and time. The Foreign Exchange and Bilal also contributed exceptional sets.

Q-Tip made the best and lasting impression. His exciting and very energetic set consisted of hits from his solo projects as well as some crowd favorites from his stint with A Tribe Called Quest. Raphael Saadiq joined him on stage for a duo to the delight of the audience.

Day one ended on a festival note with a memorable set by headliner Raphael Saadiq. He is touring with a tight band in support of his Grammy nominated CD The Way I See It. I was extremely impressed with the strong delivery of original songs with tight music arrangements with a touch of jazz featured with Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq.

Monday was a bit cooler, yet a beautiful day for a day dedicated to reggae. The festival sold out about an hour and a half into the show. This is quite understandable considering the solid line-up. Bobby Brown, Macy Gray and Medusa were a couple of celebrities checking out the show.

Reggae Day was hosted by Leo Gilling & Tweety with music provided by DJ Fada Frank of Championsound between acts.

The solid line-up for Reggae Day featured Soul Papa, Holladay, KNO of Blockwork, GLAM IROCK and Chuckee. Tizzy and Cham dazzled with a set of fast pace soca and dancehall tunes. The Lions, Etana and Barrington Levy also delivered powerful sets. Nneka a newcomer to me, kept the crowd fully engaged for her entire set. I’m sure that the audience and I will hear more from this talented singer in the future. I can understand the comparison to Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu in the message of songs on “Heartbeat,” “Suffri,” “Walking,” and “The Uncomfortable Truth.” The group is touring in support of her CD Concrete Jungle.

The duo of Nas and Damian Marley was the reason why the majority of the crowd stayed at the festival all day. Needless to say they were the crowd favorites, and gave the crowd their monies worth and much more. The duo performed selections from their CD Distant Relative. Ziggy and Rouen Marley were also in the house to witness this unforgettable experience to close out Reggae Day of the festival. Several people commented on various Facebook and Twitter sites that this year’s festival was “dope” and crackin”. I must agree with these statements even though I have no clue as to what is meant by them (smile). All weekend, the crowd and I were swaying in motion to the contagious sounds of hip-hop, Latin jazz, reggae and soul.

Memorial Day Weekend in 2011 marks the 25th Anniversary of the JazzReggae Festival presented by SCION. Bookmark www.jazzreggaefest.com so that you can get your tickets early. You don’t want to be left out of another fabulous festival organized entirely by UCLA students.

Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer. Contact him via: [email protected].