Reggae on the Bay, San Diego, CA

Reggae on the Bay is a Bob Marley tribute festival held annually for the past 31 years in San Diego. The festival is run by the local World Beat Center, and hostess Makeda Makossa. The festival line up is incredible every year bringing major names together. The Itals, Junior Reid, Alborosie, Don Carlos, Yellowman, Sister Carol, Big Mountain, Wailing Souls, Johnny Osbourne, and many others blessed up the stage.

I went to high school in San Diego, and I would go to the World Beat Center for West African drumming classes, generally to hang out and play the drums. After having not been back for exactly 10 years, I decide to surprise myself with a volunteer visit back to this very special African and Indigenous cultural center. It looks the exact same as it was when I left. The building is an oval building with murals covering the outside, and once I get inside I notice there are several newer murals. It sits in Balboa park, which is a large park that is full of museums. The Bob Marley Day festival is partly volunteer run, and when I arrive on Friday morning to volunteer for the weekend I am greeted by a group of diverse and attractive young adults willing to give their time and energy to make the festival happen.


The festival runs on Saturday and Sunday.  Friday  is spent preparing. People are running back and forth between the center and the Broadway Pier, which is a Gold Standard Leed certified building on the pier in downtown San Diego and the location where the festival is held. I’m eventually asked to work in the kitchen at the World Beat, where they will be preparing all of the food for the World Beat center kitchen booth. Makeda's in the kitchen all day hanging out. She's so busy but we all get to spend time chatting with her. One word that describes Makeda is energy. She brings fire to the scene wherever she's at. The other people in the kitchen are Christina, who's Sudanese and wants to open a clinic in Sudan when she graduates from college, Jorge who's a long time volunteer, is DJ Mafondo, and researches and teaches college Latin American Studies, Oscar who shares about his Native American shamanic work, and many others. I just thought to name a few people so you can get an idea of the diversity.

The primary purpose of the World Beat Center is to celebrate traditions, and personalities of many of the world’s culture groups. The leader behind this center is Makeda Dread.  One thing that's so very important to Makeda is that she unites people of color together, and she's brilliant at it. She's nearly 70 years old, a raw foodist, and has been for decades one of the hardest working people in Southern California in the cultural and ethnic arts scene.  She brings forward live streaming radio and television programs. She educates young students about African hertiage and music. West African musical traditions are rich and varied in and of themselves and have a profound impact on the course of musical developments worldwide over the past several centuries. This was the region of the continent from which most Africans were brought to the Americas. Through this origin we can trace origins of blues, jazz, soul, rap, hip-hop, salsa, Cuban son, Puerto Rican bomba, Trinidadian steel band, Jamacian reggae, Brazilian samba, and many more genres and subrenres too numerous to mention.

After a full day in the kitchen the crew has gotten the chance to bond a little bit, and they go until late into the night. The next morning I arrive around 10am, and begin helping to load things into the truck to go to the festival. We drive downtown to the pier and unload everything. What seems like a small amount of stuff becomes truckloads and truckloads of food and equipment. We stay at the pier and carry everything through the building up the stairs and to the farthest corner of the room. It turns out to be a very labor intensive kitchen setup. It would not have been my choice of location. No way. We work loading and unloading tons of heavy equipment and supplies for 5 or 6 hours. I'm working with Oscar, who's this totally fit Native American guy, and a few other guys arrive to help out.The festival starts around 4pm. We're doing heavy loading the entire time up until the festival starts. Then afterwards, I take a moment to eat a Jamacian pattie, and savor the flavor. The curry and rice that Makeda makes is incredible.  The kitchen becomes busy, and we begin to get a lot of customers. We're all shuffled around trying to keep it together. Some of the volunteers come and go.  That's how it went for the entire two day festival. I went out and watched a lot of the music.

I got to see most of the headlining acts and a few others. So great to see the legends of Reggae come together. There was something for everybody. Young and old, to appreciate the roots and culture of Reggae. I was volunteering most of the time serving the people who were at the festival were all decked out in their rasta clothes and gear. It's an amazing scene to connect with the reggae community of San Diego who come from all walks of life. We all come together to praise Rastafari, and unite to hear the positive vibrations. Reggae is a really positive spiritual music, and this festival upholds those strong vibes by having legendary artists bring forward their fire. Everybody was blazing herb, and my friends from 10 years ago show up and bliss me out with some ganja. We're all irie dancing to the music and after 10 years of being away I remembered the sweet San Diego vibe. There's a lot of good memories I have from Reggae by the Bay 10 years ago, and World Beat.

Volunteering is a labor of love for World Beat Center. For me, the experience is extremely touching. The roots music that is created at the center has had a lasting impression on me. 10 years later I can see that the vibe here is strong and young, and many of the younger generation are coming together here.  I'll be back next year and future years when I can to participate as a volunteer.  

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