Debating what to do this past Memorial weekend, I thankfully had a few choices. Gladly obtaining media passes at the last minute to attend the UCLA Jazz Reggae festival, I was so glad I did. In its 26th year, Day 1 called Jam Day featured hip-hop, reggae, folk, experimental jazz, blues, soul and rock artists all swirling together to entertain Los Angelenos. I had gone to this festival previously, as I happened to walk by as a grad student a few years ago and found out there was a concert going on with India Arie headlining accidentally. Whoever put together this lineup knew what was up. Besides the headliners who were Grammy-winning platinum selling artists, Shaggy and the Roots respectively, each line-up featured some up and coming artists who are about to be put on. I always love to see artists right before they are about to break because the world is still theirs to conquer and they’re looking to make their marks.
Staking out an area for the press by the stage, we were told ahead of time that artists may or may not grant interviews or photo ops so we didn’t know who would or wouldn’t be available. Kicking off Day 1, India Carney who won a UCLA singing competition, breezily sang a few songs and reminded me of a mix of India Arie and Anita Baker. Outer galaxy dwellers, Sonnymoon went on next, bringing their unique combo of experimental and alternative jazz and pop to the stage. Before the show, I listened to a few cuts like “Near Me” and their Drake cover, “Houstatlantavegas”, which teetered on the R&B line, making them cross at least 3 or 4 genres of music, a rare feat nowadays. Afterwards, I caught up with them and talked about crossing genres, asked why they had so many hip-hop fans and how they got started. Singing/producer combos have been done before but definitely not in this way. Reading Twitter today, SPIN just reviewed their latest album so I expect them to get more media attention in the future.
Next up was Selah Sue, who I was most excited to see, a new soul reggae ragga singer from Belgium. Listening to her songs, “Fyah Fyah”, “Raggamuffin” and “Break”, I liked her immediately. Sounding a little like Nelly Furtado, Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill, she had a chill vibe, singing about a dark time in her life, winning fans over by the end of her set. Preparing to release her album in August stateside after doing well in Europe, I spoke to her before she went on about this upcoming release, her summer plans and her meeting Prince. She was very nice, humble and down-to-earth. Check her out this week in NY and at the Roots’ picnic in Philly as she won’t be back this way for a while!
Thundercat went next and really jammed throughout his set. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the son of acclaimed drummer, Ronald Bruner, and has been the bassist you may have heard on key albums by Erykah Badu, J Davey, Miguel, Suicidal Tendencies and Sa-Ra Creative Partners recently. He’s now ventured into solo waters with the Flying Lotus produced “Golden Age of the Apocalypse”. I talked to him after his experimental funk and jazz set about his favorite Thundercats character (as he got his name from the show) and what his favorite new albums are. He’s a funny dude and I vowed to explore his discography further after meeting him.
Blues guitar legend in the making, Gary Clark Jr. and living legend, Booker T. Jones, then took the stage for their sets shredding the guitar and organs respectively. Questlove even jumped on the drums during Booker T’s encore. Last up were the Roots who worked Beastie Boys, Donna Summer and Guns ‘N’ Roses covers, as well as doing crowdpleasers like “The Next Movement” and “Break You Off” into their set. Overall I walked away with a greater appreciation of those that came before and excited about what more is to come from this collective motley crew of artists.