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JazzReggae Fest centers community with in-person return of 35th annual jubilee

Set in front of a green background, an illustration of a trumpet with lavender growing out of it floats above a saxophone wrapped in red flowers. After taking on a virtual format last year, the JazzReggae Festival will be back in bloom May 30 at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. (Tara Desai/Daily Bruin)

“JazzReggae Festival”

Sunset Canyon Recreation Center

May 30

11 a.m to 7 p.m.

By Alexis Shenkiryk

May 27, 2022 6:33 p.m.

The JazzReggae Festival is making its musical comeback.

Held on Memorial Day every year since 1986 the 35th annual JazzReggae Festival will return to an in-person format after two years, said third-year sociology student and event co-director Briajah Payton. Drawing various crowds, including families outside of UCLA, Payton said the festival will showcase visual art installations, craft and cultural food vendors, a sustainability booth, as well as a dynamic musical lineup. Payton said JazzReggae Festival, returning once again to the Sunset Recreation Center, has a greater potential for community impact when held in person since the live nature of this year’s festival provides many opportunities for interaction amongst attendees.

“We really want this to be an outlet for people because the past two years have been so much for us, for anyone living anywhere with the pandemic,” Payton said. “I know it’s been hard for these (people of) color, especially in LA. Whether it’s restaurants, families, a lot of people have been impacted by COVID, so I really hope that this festival is just a breath of fresh air.”

[Related: JazzReggae Fest switches to virtual platform, spreads performances over two days]

Comprised of a lineup of both student musicians and professional artists, the structure of the JazzReggae Festival gives students a platform to share their music, highlighting the talent within the UCLA community, Payton said. One student performer, fourth-year theater student Michael Hackett, who also goes by the musical alias GOVAN, said he specifically tailored his setlist for the festival with jazz-infused R&B songs from his discography. Hackett said he is looking forward to utilizing the platform of the JazzReggae Festival to showcase his new music, such as a single set to be released this summer from his debut EP.

As for the professional artists, fourth-year public affairs student and artist relations co-director Nadia Brooks said she and her co-director purposefully selected two up-and-coming musicians, Amindi and Braxton Cook, as well as larger artists Bas and headliner Gyptian for their bigger audiences. In recognizing the roots of the JazzReggae Festival, Brooks said it was essential to select artists from the Black community.

“The thing about the JazzReggae Festival is that it is a celebration of diasporic music, and by diasporic, I mean the music of the African diaspora,” Brooks said. “The beauty of that is that it’s also music that can be learned and played and celebrated by all cultures and all peoples.”

Likewise, Brooks said the team sought out artists with ties to Los Angeles in order to emphasize the community-based nature of the festival. For instance, Amindi is from Inglewood, and by including her in the setlist, Brooks said she hopes to draw in the artist’s current fanbase while also introducing her to festival-goers. Additionally, Brooks said the committee looked for artists not defined by a single genre in an attempt to curate a lineup that can appeal to different music tastes. Brooks said solo singer Amindi, for example, does not fit into one genre as she draws from alternative rock, rap and R&B, as well as her Jamaican roots.

Aside from the headliners, Payton said the festival will feature other key elements, including several visual artists, with the majority being UCLA students. While some artists will be selling their pieces during the event, she said others will be painting scenes of the festival live throughout the day. Also showcased will be culturally diverse food options, Payton said, such as flavorful Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine. Sustainability– another key element of the festival and a cornerstone since its beginning – will be demonstrated in the festival’s avoidance of single-use plastics, Payton said. The festival will also supply vendors with environmentally-friendly materials, she said, and hold a clothing swap during the event.

[Related: Renowned jazz artists to hold workshop, bring new perspective to music education]

To market the event, fourth-year psychology and communication student Chaz Gordon said it was imperative to reach out to older demographics and individuals outside of the UCLA community, as well as students through Facebook and Instagram. In addition to advertising on social media, Gordon said fourth-year fine arts student and co-director of the festival Ava Brock designed the primary logo, depicting a sun over a field of flowers, which will create uniformity throughout the event and guide the vibrant atmosphere.

The message behind reggae is both revolutionary and uplifting, Brooks said, and by honoring it at the JazzReggae Festival, people will be exposed to new music and themes like self-love and taking care of the Earth. Brooks said the festival’s layout reflects its values and encourages people to support both student and professional performers in a setting with a soulful ambiance. Ultimately, Payton said she hopes the event will help bring back the JazzReggae Festival community that was momentarily lost due to the pandemic.

“I see the impact it has on the community, especially communities of color in LA, and I do appreciate how this festival is for anyone, not just for UCLA students,” Payton said.

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Alexis Shenkiryk
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