"It all started with me trying to get a gig for the Afro Polyphonic Space Orchestra," recalls Jose Elias Mateo, referring to the genesis of the first-ever Afro Roots World Music Festival taking place this Friday at Tobacco Road. Mateo, a local multi-instrumentalist who performs with a variety of acts such as the Baboons, I.O., Satellite Lounge, Richard Marley, Lily Blanco, and Luis Miranda, was trying to find a venue for an A.P.S.O. tribute to cosmic jazzman Sun Ra. When fellow Baboon Manny Pila mentioned he was considering throwing an event to commemorate Black History Month, the two merged their ideas and came up with the roots fest, which will occupy three stages and provide continuous music into the wee hours.
"The Road was behind me 100 percent," notes Mateo. "They really dug it." Listeners can enjoy Afro-Haitian musicians Papaloko and Loray Mistik, who will hold forth on the stage upstairs, and northern Brazil's Angela Patua backed by a band on the patio. An outdoor main stage will feature the Iroko Afro-Cuban Dance Theater and Percussion Band, the Baboons (who have evolved from their former eclectic incarnation and now dub their style as "Afro-Everything"), and A.P.S.O., whose dozen members boast musical styles as varied as experimental electronic, big band, jazz, funk-rock, and Caribbean.
Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Orchestra once performed at the Road in the mid-Eighties, and it's quite possible the eccentric musician's spirit is still haunting the premises. The A.P.S.O. collective hopes to stir it up with five horns, two percussionists, a drummer, bass player, synthesizer, singer, and Mateo conducting and playing berimbau and bells ("Yes, the kind you played in elementary school," he says). The A.P.S.O. will also pull out instruments even Sun Ra didn't use: corneta China (similar to the flute used by snake charmers) and Moog synthesizer. The group will perform original compositions highlighting American, Caribbean, and West African rhythms as well as a few selections written by Sun Ra.
A far-ranging mix to be sure, but it's all in keeping with the multicultural occasion. "What was so great about Sun Ra was the diversity, the energy, the soul of his music," says Mateo. "We're going to give it a different twist -- a Caribbean, South American twist. We really want to raise awareness with this show. We want this to be a celebration of the cultures in our community because they cannot be ignored."