Afro Roots World Music Fest

Published on April 8th, 2018

Jose Elias

Dig into South Florida’s homegrown world music scene, and sooner than later you’ll find Jose Elias. A player of guitar and tres, record producer and all-around music enabler, Elias is everywhere, bending grooves with Miami’s eclectic Spam Allstars or covering traditional Cuban son with his Grammy-nominated band, Conjunto Progreso. Or working with any number of other projects that he takes on when the spirit moves him.

Consider the festival Elias launched in 1999 as an outlet for a band, the Afro Polyphonic Space Orchestra, that he put together because he had just seen a documentary on Sun Ra, the pioneer of futuristic Afro-naut jazz, and he wanted to make music like that. Since then, Elias “has brought phenomenal musicians from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean” to Florida, says Laura Quinlan, formerly of Miami Beach music presenter the Rhythm Foundation.

At this year’s 20th edition of the Afro Roots World Music Festival, the headliner will be Sun Ra Arkestra, the actual ensemble that first inspired Elias and now carries on the work of its late namesake. Opening is Mourikeba Kouyate, an Orlando-based kora player and story-song-teller originally from Senegal.

Sun Ra Arkestra

This year also marks an expansion — an extension of the brand — from one-off concert to multiple gigs up and down the coast wrapped around the main event. The Road to Afro Roots began in late January at Guanabanas in Jupiter with performances by Sanba Zao, Cortadito and another Elias band, the Nag Champayons.

“We started to expand the reach of the festival in other counties, which has never happened before,” Elias tells PureHoney. The flagship festival is April 7 at the North Beach Bandshell. The series continues in the Florida Keys on April 28 with Afro Roots Fest Islamorada at the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, featuring Nag Champayons, Cortadito and Grupo Barrio Abajo.

From there, Afro Roots moves on to Key West —  “a breath of fresh air,” as Elias puts it, down in the spiritual home of “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” enthusiast Jimmy Buffett. Afro Roots Fest Key West opens May 17 with Cuba-born pop bandleader Tomas Diaz in a free concert at the Green Parrot. It continues with a free lecture on May 18 at the Studios of Key West, and wraps on May 19, also at the Studios of Key West, with a concert by Kouyate and Miami-based Haitian singer Papaloko and his band, Loray Mistik.

Another event is in the works for Key Largo on June 2, and Elias says he also has plans to launch a label, Afro Roots Records.

The 20th Afro Roots World Music Festival, with Sun Ra Arkestra and Mourikeba Kouyate, is April 7 at the North Beach Bandshell in North Miami Beach. Details on the April 28 Islamorada and May 17-19 Key West Afro Roots festivals are at afrorootsfest.com ~ Sean Piccoli

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the main Afro Roots Festival, which was held April 7. We apologize for the error. ~ SP

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