Umoja Hi-Fi’s Anniversary Weekend Recap Part 1:
From their modest beginnings as an up-and-coming DJ crew throwing weekly club nights at a Greek restaurant in Los Angeles, to their current international, multi-member line up, the Umoja Hi-FI sound system have shown that some good things do last and improve with time. Over Labor Day weekend 2012 Umoja Hi-Fi reunited for a string of three successful events in Los Angeles. Night one was a club affair, night two a house party, while day three was an outdoor park jam–a fitting trifecta of multi-faceted events and sounds.
History: Jazz ‘N Ragga Lounge
The nine-member strong DJ unit originally formed in Los Angeles sometime in 1992, when founding members DJ Daz and DJ Tomas lunched the Umoja Jazz ‘N Ragga Lounge at a Greek restaurant on Melrose Ave near Larchmont. Young jazz musicians and poets were encouraged to pass through the night and drop verses or solos over the hip-hop, dub, rare groove and funk breaks that Daz and Tomas would spin. Several of the jazz musicians who came to play, including trumpeter Joshua Koslow and guitarist Emile Porée would form the nucleus of the Umoja Quintet, a band that also featured famous Black Note bass player and bandleader Marcus Shelby.
After a few months the event moved to the Cosmo Bar on Cosmo Alley near Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, just around the corner from The Sound Factory recording studio. Daz, Tomas plus local and out of town guests spun beats and The Umoja Quintet would perform during the night, blending in and out of the DJ sets. Celebrities MCs and DJs, including Stretch Armstrong, Mad Lion and The Pharcyde, would often visit the night. The event lasted for a year and an half, during which new members Culture D, Jun and Cokni O Dire joined the crew. Other notable LA club nights, such as B-Side, Goa Dub and Chocolate Bar, were either influenced by Umoja Jazz ‘N Ragga Lounge or featured Umoja DJs. Hence, a legacy of eclectic and inclusive music was born.
In spring 2012 DJ and MC King Cokni O Dire suggested a reunion and anniversary over Labor Day weekend, which expanded into the event series titled Evolutions & Revolutions. In association with Chris Vargas of Hush Money & Co, the first night of the series was booked at NOLAs Los Angeles, a New Orleans restaurant and live music venue with a reputation for authentic food and music and situated in the heart of the downtown LA arts district . It was the perfect space as it allowed a regenerated Umoja Quintet band (featuring original members Koslow and Porée) to perform alongside most of the original Umoja DJs.
|Emile Porée, Ardom Belton, Josh Koslow|
On Friday August 31 Evolutions & Revolutions kicked off at 7 p.m. with a short DJ set of soul 45s by co-founding member Tomas (a.k.a. DJ Tomas SF). Later he introduced the Umoja Quintet, which featured the aforementioned Koslow and Porée, plus Ardom Belton on bass, Kharon Harrison on drums and Ryan Porter on trombone. The group artfully wound through hard bop jazz and funk covers plus their own originals with each member performing a dynamic solo.
Tomas returned to the decks during the band’s intermission, and played songs by Stevie Wonder, James Brown and the Staple Singers, among others. The Umoja Quintet’s second set featured more burning jazz numbers plus a sly version of Outkast’s “So Fresh and So Clean.” The crowd applauded generously after the band concluded as Tomas resumed DJ duties with a Jamaican rocksteady selection that included the Heptones' “Party Time” and Otis Gayle’s amazing cover of “I’ll Be Around.”
|Black Shakespeare & DJ Destroyer|
Ev & Rev: The DJ Sets
Turntables were set up where the band had been on stage, then Destroyer kicked off the main DJ portion of the night with an excellent batch of ‘80s soul and funk classics. Destroyer’s smooth blends got the floor going quickly and by 10:00 p.m. the night was cooking. Next on the decks was Umoja’s respected reggae and dancehall aficionado Culture D. His set started off with one-drop reggae burners and wound into classic ‘90s dancehall cuts.
As each new DJ took to the decks it was sounding like a true Umoja night–a unity of music genres and sounds. DJ Monalisa was next, and she kicked things into high gear with an energetic set of funk and hip-hop, which brought more bodies to the dance floor. Her expert mixing and superb selection had folks twittering their friends with positive praises.
Destroyer returned to the decks with an up-tempo selection. He transitioned from hip-hop into dance classics, including DJ Spinna’s house anthem, “Days Like This,” a tune so heavy that it temporarily shut down the Serato software; but emcee Shakespeare stepped in and led the crowd in a sing-a-long of the chorus. Not long after, DJ Daz stepped to the stage and proceeded to smash it with a true Umoja blend of hip-hop and reggae that ranged from Slum Village’s “Forth & Back,” to Gang Starr’s “Dwyck,” Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder “Movie Star” and Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh.” Needless to say he mashed down the spot with this heavy selections.
Daz’s set segued nicely into DJ Tomas set of ragga classics. He threw down memorable tunes from Barrington Levy (“Dancehall Rock”), Reggie Stepper (“Kimbo King”) and Tanya Stephens (“Yu Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet”). Culture D jumped on and the set became a two-for-two tag-team collaboration.
It was nearing 1:20 a.m. when LA favorite DJ Jun (Bokaos, Bossanova, Science, Hollywood Forever) began his set. A selector like no other, he went on a journey from disco to cumbia to anthemic soul classics from Earth, Wind and Fire and Marvin Gaye. Jun kept it eclectic and earthy with tunes like Terry Hall & Mushtaq's "They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around," Roy Ayers "Fast Money," and Osunlade's "Cantos A Ochun Et Oya." The vibe was so incredible that even as the lights came up several couples remained entwined on the dancefloor for another 30 minutes. It was a perfect ending to a night filled with friendly faces, great dancers and shared appreciation for authentic music.
|Tomas, B-Love & Destroyer|
As a side note, DJ B-Love was scheduled to spin as well, but car trouble delayed his arrival. Still, he was in the house by the end of the night chopping it up with the crew and prepping for the following night’s house party. Also, props go out to King Cokni O’ Dire who couldn’t attend, although as one of the original inspirations for the event, he was definitely present in spirit.
Coming Next: Evolutions & Revolutions Part 2: House Party and the Blue Moon
Umoja Hi-Fi sound system is: Daz, Tomas, Culture D, Jun, King Cokni ‘O Dire, Stevie G, Destroyer, Monalisa, B-Love & the Umoja Quintet band.