The smell of barbecue ribs and the sound of reggae pop remixes wafted through the air Monday at UCLA’s JazzReggae Festival.
Concertgoers filed through the gates of the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, sporting multicolored tinted glasses, crop tops and brightly patterned flannels.
This year marked the 31st Annual JazzReggae Festival hosted by the Cultural Affairs Commission. The event, which took place from 12-6 p.m. at the tail end of Memorial Day weekend, sold all of its 1,800 tickets, said Sesha Brown, a third-year political science student and head of marketing.
Voodoo, a seven-piece hip-hop/neo-soul ensemble, was the first band to claim the stage. The members of Voodoo wore pink-, yellow- and black-tinted round shades. Saxophone, trumpet and keyboard tunes set a rolling rhythmic tone as singer Merlaku Ra rapped over the groovy tunes. Jake Augustine, a second-year jazz studies student, played the keyboard while performing vocals on a smooth chorus between Ra’s rap segments.
Audience members wandered between jewelry and clothing booths, occasionally stopping to indulge in food stands offering barbeque, Belizean cuisine and lemonade. Others chatted with friends on picnic blankets in the grassy field or took pictures beside a colorful wooden JRF sign installation near the stage.
The UCLA LatinJazz Big Band took the stage around 1:15 p.m. Director Dr. Bobby Rodriguez darted across the stage throughout the 30-minute performance while the band’s jazzy music introduced a fresh salsa element to the festival.
Rodriguez weaved through the orderly rows of seated student musicians onstage as he struck a jangling cowbell. He also took breaks from playing to direct certain band members to deliver intricate trumpet, saxophone, guitar and keyboard solos. Jack Bastian performed multiple solos on the keyboard while the sounds of the bongo drums, guitar and guiro – a Latin American percussion instrument – persisted in the background.
“The whole rainbow is sitting right here on stage in front of you,” Rodriguez said, addressing the cheering crowd. “The rainbow is in your face.”
Identical-twin jazz duo The Mattson 2 took to the stage around 2 p.m. with groovy instrumentals. Jared Mattson played a double-necked guitar while his brother Jonathan Mattson took control of the drums. As the duo played, windy guitar licks contrasted against alternating rhythmic drum beats.
“Thank you jazzy cats and jazzy kittens,” Jared Mattson said before the group launched into an instrumental version of “JBS,” a psychedelic rock-filled track from the duo’s recent collaboration with Chaz Bundick.
The group also played a track from John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” referencing their recent concert in San Francisco in which they covered the classic jazz album in full.
As JazzReggae Festival continued, people steadily poured through the entrance gates. Concertgoers walked around the grounds, toting small succulents and lightbulb-shaped smoothies, filling up seats and the standing area near the stage.
Reggae singer Jah9 energized the growing crowd with her first song “New Name,” which grew more upbeat about halfway through. She then transitioned into her next song “Humble Mi,” with smooth drum rhythms between the songs.
The performers made the reggae mood apparent, with the bassist sporting a red, green and yellow striped shirt.
Jah9 also brought in her feminist beliefs with a statement encouraging the end of violence against women.
“We must break the silence, we must heal,” Jah9 spoke passionately before launching into “Unafraid.”
DJ QBwoy kept the energy of the crowd high in the breaks between the sets, playing hits such as “Work” by Rihanna and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, which had the crowd swaying and dancing along.
Daniel Caesar elicited a strong reaction from the crowd as soon as he stepped onstage, drawing people closer to where he stood with his guitar in hand. Caesar started off with a soulful rendition of his song “Violet” that had the crowd swaying in tune to his crooning melodies.
Caesar continued to connect with the crowd during his cover of “ROS” by Mac Miller. Numerous people held up phones in order to record the powerful and emotional vibe Caesar emanated.
Closing act Protoje – the stage name of reggae singer Oje Ken Ollivierre – launched into his first song with funky keyboard tunes echoed by an electric guitar. As his time onstage progressed, Protoje was joined by two female vocalists in yellow tank tops with “Rasta Love” on them.
The performers and audience alike clapped their hands and swayed their hips to the music as he repeated the verse, “Please do not let me lose my way.” During one transition between his songs, Protoje spoke of the value of living in the moment.
“We are always talking about the past or projecting our happiness into the future,” Protoje said. “But all we really have is right now so thank you for coming out today.”