This Memorial Day weekend, about 1,800 people will be making their way to Sunset Recreation Center to attend the 31st Annual JazzReggae Festival, and unlike a lot of other UCLA student-run events, more than 50 percent of these attendees will be coming from the greater Los Angeles community – a fact that the organizers of this event are exceedingly proud of.
The JazzReggae Festival is one of the oldest UCLA student-run events. Though the festival started out as a place to display and celebrate reggae and jazz music, the festival moved away from its roots in 2015 when it was rebranded as JRF and moved to the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
However, in 2016, the festival returned to Sunset Canyon Recreation Center and once again became an escape for both UCLA students and the greater Los Angeles community and a space where people can celebrate their heritage through self-expression. This year’s committee will be trying to replicate this feeling with its talent lineup, live art, nonmusical performers and various vendors.
“The legacy of the festival is one that we want to respect,” said Malia Smith, a fourth-year global studies student, who is the executive producer of the event.
Smith talked about the institutional changes that the festival had undergone in 2015 when it shifted from the Intramural Field to the Los Angeles Tennis Center. She said that year’s festival was a marked break from previous years and did not really accomplish the same purpose and role it had previously served for the community.
“So in 2016, we really wanted to go back to festival’s community roots, and it was a beautiful day. Everyone had a beautiful time. People brought their grandparents and their kids,” Smith said. “It was just fun and really pure, and that was how I wanted to guide the vision for this year’s festival and stay true to our roots.”
This change and the decision to move back to a format that is more true to the roots of the festival has certainly worked. People’s excitement for the event was evident when a post on the festival’s official Facebook page announced that the festival was now sold out.
This outlook has a major impact on the JazzReggae Festival because it reduces the political undertones of the festival and transforms it into a community-centric day.
Though Sesha Brown, a third-year political science student who is serving as this year’s marketing director, does acknowledge that the event has political undertones, she firmly stated that the event is focused more on acting as a space that celebrates self-expression and allows reflection.
“It’s hard for an event (like) JazzReggae Festival to not be political in a way,” Brown said. “We want to create a space where you don’t think about problems and can instead focus on embracing your culture and community and spreading love.”
One way through which the committee will be trying to achieve this outlook is through nonmusical live art performances. Out of their 18-member team, two students specifically concentrated on visual arts; they focused on creating their own installations and also extensively reached out to visual artists from all over the country.
“It was a lot of researching through Instagram and other events,” said Smith when asked about where the committee found out about these artists.
According to Brown, this heavy emphasis on live art performers is an important aspect of the festival because live art creates an exciting atmosphere that can start conversations. She believes that because live art allows people to observe and become a part of the creative process by interacting with the artist, it can invoke strong emotions and become a common ground for people to bond over.
And it’s not just the artists who were carefully picked out. Even vendors were consciously picked based on how integrated they were with the LA community because of how important their role is in creating a community atmosphere at the festival.
All vendors – be it vendors like Native Soul, which sells handmade clothing or vendors like Timeless Symbols, a store that specializes in ethnic and spiritual items – are a nod to the spirit and the roots of the JazzReggae Festival. Shabazz Good Foods, an eatery that specializes in traditional soul food which will be returning to the event for the third time.
“Just seeing vendors like that at the festival and having people come to the festival and go, ‘Oh wow. I love this food, I eat this food. This space is for me, I feel safe here.’ We all are trying to cultivate a welcoming environment,” Brown said.
“It’s very rewarding when the event itself happens,” Smith said. “We want to create a safe space for self-expression, for celebration, for being silly, for hanging out in the sand and kicking a soccer ball around with somebody while they watch their great-grandkid and you would have never met them otherwise, but now you’re talking because both of you love the collard greens of our barbecue vendor.”