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DJ Quik

Photo courtesy of Arista

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Get Down and Get Connected

It is a rare urban music festival that incorporates all black music genres, from gospel and R & B to rap and hip-hop, and where gospel star Yolanda Adams is on the same bill with reformed gangsta rapper DJ Quik, underground hip-hop artist Common and reggae man Sean Paul. It is a rarer one still that comes with an educational agenda as well as a concurrent (and affordable) conference for amateurs and professionals alike.

But the rare is indeed what’s happening on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday, June 25, when the Urban Focus Music Foundation presents UrbanFest L.A. and the “Get Connected: Music, Technology and You” conference on the USC campus.

Founded by USC alumna Marci Kenon in 1997, the Urban Focus Music Foundation empowers black music artists.

The conference evolved out of Kenon’s realization that despite the incredible sales generated for record labels by hip-hop and other forms of black music, there’s not enough attention paid to nurturing budding talent or to ensuring that established professionals aren’t ripped off.

“I asked, how can I be of service in the music community?” Kenon said. “There’s no centralized voice, no united front. … This, in part, tries to address that.”

The fourth annual conference is filled with workshops and events designed to enhance the technological savvy of the urban music industry and to help close the digital divide.

“It’s important for the urban music community to learn ways of independently doing music. You need a computer, you need to get an e-mail address,” said Kenon.

Like the conference, the inaugural festival, which celebrates Black Music Month and L.A. Music Week, aims to inform festival-goers about the importance of having a computer, getting online and being a part of the Information Age.

Celebrities – who, in Kenon’s words, “get heard differently when they talk about this” – will talk about the importance of “getting connected” to the digital world.

And, of course, there’s the straight-up entertainment. More than 20 signed acts perform on two outdoor stages. Saturday’s headliners include Boyz II Men, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, DJ Quik, Gospel Gangstaz, Spooks, Slum Village, Divinity and Silk-E. Sunday’s include Common, Ideal, De La Soul, Yolanda Adams, Dwayne Wiggins, Mary Mary, Avant, Sean Paul, Kina, Wailing Souls, Spragga Benz, Boomshaka and CAP.One.

Alternative hip-hop group Spooks performs after the festival screening of “Once in the Life,” a film in which actor Laurence Fishburne makes his directorial debut and in which the group contributes to the music and soundtrack with its debut single, “Things I’ve Seen.” Fishburne will be on hand to introduce the film.

Up to 10 unsigned acts from the conference registration pool will perform and 92.3 FM The Beat (KKBT) will broadcast several of its radio shows live from the festival.

Festival tickets are $20 for both days or $15 per day if purchased in advance through Ticketmaster, and $20 at the door. Conference registration, which includes all festival activities, is $150 general, $110 students.

A portion of the weekend’s proceeds are going to benefit – in addition to Urban Focus Music Foundation itself – several nonprofits, including Rhythm and Blues Foundation, Music & Kids Inc., Temple of Hip-Hop Kulture and Clean Slate. Sponsors include the USC Office of Summer and Special Programs, Wherehouse Music/CheckOut.com, L.A. Weekly and The Beat.

For more information visit http://www.urbanfocus.org or call 213-740-8748.

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Author Susan Sontag on Art and Fiction

Susan Sontag addressed the May 1 gathering of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, which meets twice a month at USC’s Faculty Center. The novelist and essayist discussed “The Art of Fiction” in connection with her new bestseller “In America.” The novel’s main character, Maryna Zalezowska, is based on the legendary 19th century Polish actress Helena Modjeska, who eventually settled in Anaheim and tried to establish a utopian colony there. Called “lithe and playful” by the New York Times, the novel has also been criticized both for lifting whole sections from historical documentation and for being too liberal with facts from Modjeska’s life. Sontag is a founding member of New York’s 25-year-old Institute of the Humanities, which served as a model for the USC-based institute.

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