[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
You can't quite call Andrew Lojero a promoter. It does him a disservice to say that he “throws shows.” What he does is closer to arranging love letters to music.
Take “That '70s Soul,” Lojero's latest Art Don't Sleep extravaganza taking place this Sunday at the Mayan Theater. A celebration of James Brown, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and other soul architects, it features orchestral reinterpretations of classics and special guests including Brazilian troubadour Seu Jorge and teardrop-soul icon Shuggie Otis.
See also: Our review of Shuggie Otis
“I wanted to present things that no one else was,” Lojero says. Bearded, brown-eyed and Buddha-like, he sits serenely on an olive green couch at the two-story Mount Washington house he shares. He's wearing a Barry White shirt designed by the much-loved, currently deported DJ-artist Kutmah. Nag Champa incense smoke sweetens the air.
The walls are decorated with framed posters of Lojero's productions — a roll call of internationally revered musicians including Pete Rock, Roy Ayers, Madlib and Flying Lotus. “I'm not trying to do whatever's cool, I'm trying to take a timeless approach,” he says.
The easy money in promotion is to ride the cresting waves and abandon trends at the first drop of the snapback. Lojero has taken the opposite tack. His functions never rely on hype beasts. Instead, they fuse artists committed to grooves from every decade and genre: jazz fusion, velour soul, Afro-beat, Brazilian Tropicalia and hip-hop.
“These are tough to do financially,” Lojero says. He estimates the production cost of “That '70s Soul” at $35,000, with an 80-person staff including performers. But Lojero handles all booking, publicity and arrangements — down to collaborating on the set list with musical director Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.
It's not about money, either. 2012 is the first year Art Don't Sleep has broken even. By day, Lojero is an A&R executive for future-soul label Plug Research (Exile, Sonnymoon, Bilal). “The event is still DIY, it just has a prettier wrapping. It's very grassroots. No partners, no funding, no sponsors.”
It's befitting his underground roots. Raised in Boyle Heights by religious parents who banned secular music, Lojero rebelled as a teen. “I was heavy into punk rock until I decided I wasn't mad enough,” Lojero says. “So I discovered raves where everyone was happy. Then I found hip-hop, which led me to everything because it samples everything.”
The Montebello High graduate cut his teeth throwing quasi-legal parties and small festivals in the middle years of the previous decade. Frequently the youngest in the scene, Lojero sponged knowledge from some of the subterranean world's most highly respected figures — Mochilla's Brian “B+” Cross and Eric Coleman, Dublab's Mark “Frosty” McNeill, the late DJ Dusk. Lojero blended that old-head wisdom with cutting-edge taste. His 2007 compilation, Art Don't Sleep Presents: From L.A. With Love is a seminal document of the-then fledgling L.A. beat scene, with recordings from, among others, Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer and Madlib.
Until this year, his biggest feat was 2010's “Timeless,” a series of performances from a 67-year-old godfather of Ethiopian jazz (Mulatu Astatke), a '70s Brazilian bard (Arthur Verocai) and a string orchestra interpreting the work of J Dilla, with cameos from Bilal, Dwele, Posdnuos of De La Soul and Talib Kweli.
This year he's upped the ante with more than half a dozen memorable musical valentines. But he speaks most excitedly about his upcoming event — from the perspective of a fan anxious to see something he won't forget.
“There's an urgency to my booking. This is real,” Lojero says. “I'm not trying to be facetious, but if the 2012 Mayan prophecy is correct, I'd die happy knowing that I'd have done the greatest things I could imagine.”