The OC's Premier Reggae Night Goes Down at Mozambique Restaurant and Coastal Lounge

A Roots/Cougar Soundclash
Mozambique's Reggae Night is the most irie joint in OC

“No matter where you sit in here, you're up close to the band,” says Joi Lipari from her perch at Mozambique Restaurant and Coastal Lounge. Today her sister and brother-in-law are visiting from Las Vegas; last time it was two nieces from Idaho. “I'm fine not going out on Friday and Saturday because I know I'm coming here on Sunday,” she says.

It's early—just before 7 p.m. The band—Kush N Bloodfiyah Angels—are arriving from San Diego. As the night goes on, the under-30 crowd will arrive, livening up the older patrons who are here eating. By 10:30 p.m., the place will empty out. “People would be ready for more music if the city would allow it,” says Laguna Beach local Shayne Monahan. “It's a spiritual thing. It's kind of like church here.”

But alas, for some nonbelievers, the congregation is a nuisance of bodies coming and going, and five or six neighbors regularly complain. Despite this, the lounge continually draws heads from up and down our paved coastline. And while Mozambique may not be the only OC venue to offer roots reggae, it is singular in its state-of-the-art audio-video system, where one evening guitarist Earl Chinna Smith plays an acoustic set, and another night, Don Carlos' syrupy voice floats beyond the bar to the folding waves just a glance away. No other regional venue so intimate and well-designed promises such enticing consistency.

If you look into the shadow past the stage, you'll find Tony Nguyen tucked into a small booth, the only person in a 100-mile radius who can seamlessly operate the stacks of machinery and virtual patchwork that comprise Mozambique's $1 million system. He's largely responsible for Sunday night's success, and his studio-engineering degree and 10-year keyboard stint in his own roots band have provided him a ground-level sensibility while filling his Rolodex with the acts that have built Mozambique's reputation for authenticity.

“Musicians are very happy to play here,” Nguyen says. The setup is so good that bands press for weekly gigs, but Nguyen values variety too much to allow that. “Sunday is our biggest night,” says Nguyen, “Rain or shine, people are here.”

Established nearly three years ago by apparel-industry mogul and music enthusiast Ivan Spiers, Mozambique has evolved into a venue for quality cultural experiences. Bigger headliners could give the club a bigger rep—and bring big ticket prices. But for now, every show is cover-free, unusual for any venue offering this level of music. On Sundays, the motto is simple, says Nguyen: “Straight to the roots.”

This particular Sunday, Joey Prieto is seen posting up, creased in dark denim and crisp kicks. Nodding to the band and keeping his eyes on the curvier section of the crowd, he tips a beer bottle back. “It's my first time here,” says Prieto. He and his boy Anthony were both brought here by a friend, who's now somewhere in the crowd near the stage front. Anthony explains how their boy coaxed them from Stanton to Laguna Beach. “He said it was pretty cool . . . the bar is cool, and . . .” he says, “you can pick up on chicks.”

Besides the band selection, the elegance and the crystal sound, the most enticing reason guys like Mozambique can be summed up in one word: “Cougarville,” says young regular Lipari. All parties grin at the observation. “Rarrrrrr,” growls the bouncer, as he paws the air and smiles.

But customers are mainly here for the music. Veteran roots fan Tracey is an Australian ex-pat who has traveled the Caribbean, heard reggae the world over, and drives up from Dana Point to take in Mozambique with a girlfriend. “The thing about reggae is that it draws everyone together,” Tracey says.

“It's one of my favorite places to play,” says Sean of the Bloodfiyah Angels, before taking the stage with his bass. “It's not crazy drunk people; there are families here, even little kids. We love it. And Tony's organization makes it tight,” he says of Nguyen. “He's nice, personable, and he takes care of business really well—that's a good combo.” Sean looks toward the stage. “Basically, we just come and plug in,” he says.

Onstage, Bloodfiyah Angels' singer Kush is soon controlling the mic, as his knee-length locks spiral around his waist. “The sound is always dialed [at Mozambique],” he enthuses. “I love the microphone I sing into—the fact that they have a good sound system means you can hear yourself. They give you the option of recording live—many times they give us a CD right after we perform, which is really rare. All those perks make this a big place, even though it's small.”

Reggae at Mozambique, 1740 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7100; Every Sun., 6:30-9:30 p.m. Free.

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