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The Pop & Hiss guide to the UCLA Jazz and Reggae Festival

May 22, 2009 |  2:33 pm

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With the hippie haven Topanga Days Festival running concurrently over Memorial Day Weekend, the remainder of kids with Bob Marley posters on their dorm room walls will doubtlessly be heading to UCLA’s 23rd annual Jazz and Reggae Festival. Accordingly, Pop and Hiss is here to break down the premier acts jamming out this weekend in Westwood.

With Sunday dedicated to a “Jam Day” and Monday cordoned off for reggae, the festival has historically drawn a diverse array of artists. While herbal refreshments may augment the experience, the talent recruited to entertain co-eds and their cohorts should appeal to anyone with a taste for lilting bass lines and warm-weather music.

With forecasts predicting a gorgeous weekend, should you not be indulging in that quintessential Angeleno pastime of leaving town, the Jazz and Reggae Festival promises to be an ideal way to spend your holiday -- even if the heat means that you should leave the Rasta beanie at home.

Sunday

Erykah Badu

While her latest, “New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War," failed to generate the commercial heat of past efforts, it marked the “analog girl in a digital world’s” finest effort yet. With beats from 9th Wonder, J Dilla, and Madlib, the record finished fifth in the 2008 Pazz and Jop Critics poll, and stands as one of the most complete and visionary R&B/funk albums of the decade.

De La Soul

The legendary New York City trio of Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove and Maseo continue to stay relevant well into their third decade of making music. Most recently, they released the “Are You In: Nike Run Mix,” which worked surprisingly well despite its corporate genesis. While most visionaries tend to skew toward the erratic and unpredictable, the Plug Ones remain one of the most dependable live outfits in the genre.

Leela James

Sultry neo-soulstress Leela James dropped her galvanizing, Sam Cooke-inspired debut, “A Change is Gonna Come,” in 2005 to modest sales but major acclaim—frequently garnering Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, and Aretha Franklin comparisons. With production from Raphael Saadiq, Wyclef Jean, and Kanye West, the then-22-year-old James earned a reputation for her plangent voice and maturity. Nearly four years later, she’s back on the scene, touring behind the March-released “Let’s Do It Again,” an all-covers effort featuring versions of songs from the likes of James Brown, The Rolling Stones and Al Green.

People Under the Stairs

Relentlessly independent, People Under the Stairs have accrued a large and loyal fan base off the strength of their kinetic live shows and consistent discography. With Jurassic 5 no more and Dilated Peoples pursuing solo careers, P.U.t.S. are appearing increasingly like the cream of Los Angeles’ storied class of 1999.

Ayo

German-born reggae-funk-soul singer Ayo is a huge star internationally, but has yet to break in the United States. Her sophomore effort, last year’s “Gravity at Last,” reached the top of the French charts, while her debut, “Joyful,” was a hit in France and platinum in Germany and Poland. Saddled with a Dickensian childhood involving a heroin-addled mother and stints in foster care, the singer (whose name means “Joy” in her father’s Yoruba language), is known for her songs of uplift and determination.

Monday

Mavado

Mavado is arguably dancehall’s best bet for crossover in the United States, with the Kingston, Jamaica, native earning honors from Rolling Stone as the best reggae artist of 2008 and placement in the blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto IV. Currently rap’s go-to reggae guest, he’s collaborated with such performers as Jay-Z, Akon and Busta Rhymes. With his recently released “Mr. Brooks…A Better Tomorrow” earning strong reviews and spins on New York’s Hot 97 and BET’s 106th and Park, Mavado’s future looks bright.

Peetah and Mojo Morgan of Morgan Heritage

Children of the Jamaican diaspora, Brooklyn-raised Peetah and Mojo Morgan channel the T-Pain- and Akon-led vein of contemporary pop, as much as they build off traditional roots reggae music and dancehall. The pair represent two-fifths of Morgan Heritage, a group often called “the royal family of reggae,” formed by five of the 30 offspring of prolific reggae artist Denroy Morgan.

Assassin

Proving that the gospel of Auto-Tune has expanded internationally, Assassin’s rugged dancehall coupled with processed computer hooks exemplifies the relatively short distance between Miami and Jamaica. Also known as Agent Sasco, the frequently military suit-clad artist has yet to achieve the international acclaim of some of the other performers, but the tropical gale rhythms embedded in his thick patois have him poised to be the sleeper set of the festival.

Cherine Anderson

The protégé of reggae deity, Sly Dunbar (of Sly and Robbie), Cherine Anderson first catapulted to fame for her acting ability, starring in the popular Jamaican films “Dancing Queen” and “One Love,” the latter of which snagged her a best actress award from MTV2. Just 25 years old, her stature domestically has been increasing thanks to official remix collaborations with Wyclef Jean, Britney Spears, Madonna and Paul McCartney. 

-- Jeff Weiss

The UCLA Jazz & Reggae Festival at UCLA Intramural Field. Advance tickets $25, day of event tickets $35, two-day passes $45, 12 p.m.-7 p.m.

Photo: Erykah Badu. Credit: AP

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