Daniel Caesar & Leven Kali Graced CSULB For The 2019 ASI Big Event

By Annika Brandes

Daniel Caesar performed at the 2019 ASI Big Event. / Photo by Niyah Maldonado

Leven Kali opened for Daniel Caesar during the ASI Big Event. / photo by Diana C. Martinez

On Saturday March 16, R&B soul singer Daniel Caesar graced Cal State Long Beach with his presence for this year’s Big Event hosted by CSULB’s ASI. Thousands gathered in the pyramid, equipped with glittering foam light sticks and high energy. The headliner was preceded by singer-songwriter and Santa Monica native Leven Kali, who--like Caesar--is bringing a fresh perspective to R&B by blending and bending genres.

In order to keep the crowd entertained, the school’s own 22 West Media enlisted the help of one of their DJs to pump up the crowd while people took their seats and in between set changes. While the intention was there, the execution of the mix was haphazard. Both featured artists presumably attracted audiences fond of R&B, soul, and pop, and yet the DJ chose to remix every song into an EDM cacophony of offbeat drops. Yes, he played anthems like “Year 3000” by the Jonas Brothers and “Wannabe” by Spice Girls, but there’s something terribly wrong if “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon transitions abruptly to “Africa” by Toto.

Even though the DJ seemed to be playing at the wrong venue, Leven Kali came with the stage presence of a seasoned pro. It must be nerve-wracking for any opener to perform for a crowd whose focus may be somewhere else, but Kali drew everyone in. He launched his set with the commanding single “Joy,” his name glowing against the palm tree visuals synonymous with Los Angeles sunshine. That’s what Kali’s set felt like--a breezy walk on the beach with some groovy tunes. Kali shared more of his biggest hits: the crowd favorite “Do U Wrong,” which features Syd of The Internet, the disco-reminiscent “Smile,” and the epic conclusion with the bass-heavy “Thursday.” The music paired with Saturday’s perfect weather gave students a glimpse of summer break right around the corner.

Daniel Caesar’s setlist encompassed all of his different eras and genres he is so gifted at fusing together. From gospel and jazz to blues and R&B, his discography boasts hits from multiple genres that never fail to tug the heartstrings of listeners. The man of the hour arrived an hour after Kali with the resonating female harmonies from his debut album’s 10-minute track “Freudian.” It set the tone for the impactful performance about to come. He followed his poignant intro with one of his earliest songs to gain traction, “Japanese Denim.” Rather than performing a playlist, Caesar even blended each track; everything seamlessly flowed so that the crowd received a unique musical experience that can’t be replicated by hitting shuffle on your favorite streaming service. Out of context, it may not make sense how the sensual “Beauty & Essex” would transition into the sentimental “Violet,” but Caesar’s talented band proved their musicality by making it happen.

A majority of Caesar’s setlist revolved around his debut album “Freudian.” Even if you’re not a hardcore fan, you more likely than not knew the words to the Grammy Award-winning breakout “Best Part” featuring R&B songstress H.E.R. Other hits like “Hold Me Down,” “Neu Roses,” and “Blessed,” were also featured in the 45-minute set. They may not be the most exciting songs, but the vulnerability communicated through Caesar’s voice is enough to make you incredibly emotional. He even treated students to the second ever performance of his new single “Who Hurt You?” While his songs carry heavy emotional baggage, the singer was refreshingly light and friendly to the crowd. To conclude, Caesar returned to chants of an encore with the biggest track of the night, “Get You,” which originally features Kali Uchis. It was an interactive ending that encouraged the audience to belt out the famous melodies. Whether or not you came to the concert with a significant other, you left the concert with your soul filled to the brim with love--a resounding message felt throughout Caesar’s music.