"Everything you hear that has a beat, that has a pulse, is a derivative of Afro roots."
That is Jose Elias' condensed definition of world music. And as the man behind the Magic City's 17th-annual Afro Roots World Music Festival, Elias knows a thing or two about worldbeat.
"In every form of pop music you hear on the radio today — Top 40, hip-hop, [EDM] — there's an example of Afro roots," he says. "[The festival] is really about focusing on how the music we listen to, and every one of us, comes from Africa. No matter what, that's the one place everything stems from."
In celebration of all things Afro roots, Elias and Community Arts & Culture, the nonprofit he directs, will fill the streets of the 305 with the raw sounds of Senegal, Morocco, and Brazil (to name just a few countries) this Thursday through Saturday. Unlike past editions, though, this year's festival will span three days, thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation.
The fest will kick off Thursday night at Blackbird Ordinary with Cuban flavors from Miami's
ARWMF culminates Saturday at the North Beach Bandshell with a concert by "the Godfather of Gnawa music," Hassan Hakmoun, the 305's Locos
"When I started the festival, my whole thing was world music," Elias explains. "When you think about it, [Miami has] a lot of Afro-Caribbean cultures to begin with — Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, and even Colombia. I felt it was a perfect opportunity."
To understand the global impact of African culture on music, Elias looks to the past — the transatlantic slave trade, to be specific.
"During slavery, Africans were taken out of Africa to this part of the world," he says. "Slavery was such an awful thing, but as far as looking at something positive that came out of it, the African culture was spread throughout the world. For instance, Cuba is a great example of how the African culture mixed with the Spanish and native culture [of the island].
"Because of that, you have
Though ARWMF has become a staple in Miami's music scene, a lot has changed since its inaugural edition in 1998.
"I wanted to do a tribute concert to Sun Ra, a famous jazz artist who incorporated a lot of African roots in jazz music," Elias recalls of the festival's inception. "The response was great, and we decided to keep doing it."
About three years later, he was exposed to the nonprofit sector after working with a local church. There, he learned the ins and outs of running a nonprofit, including how to secure grant funding.
"We went from doing three years in the beginning at [the now-defunct] Tobacco Road to obtaining grants to start a nonprofit, and about seven years ago, we started including international performers," he says. "We're continuing to build relationships, and as it evolves, we're legitimizing the event even more."
One way Elias is further legitimizing the fest is through Afro Roots Recordings, which "focuses on [helping local world-music] artists who might not have the resources to necessarily produce an album.
"Some of these artists represent 700 years of lineage in culture," he says. "This is done to preserve that culture," something he hopes to achieve with ARWMF.
Aside from the role of music in preserving culture, Elias is a firm believer in its unifying power: "Music always seems to be the one thing where everyone comes together, no matter what.
"[It allows us to] embrace culture and diversity. Music, to me, is the universal language, the only form of art that can be received by anyone, no matter what nationality you are. We're able to heal and expand the minds and hearts of many to understand more about our world and break down barriers."Thursday, August 6, 10 p.m. Blackbird Ordinary, 729 SW 1st Ave., Miami; 305-671-3307; blackbirdordinary.com. Admission is free. Ages 21 and up. Afro Roots World Music Festival Kick-Off Celebration. With Cortadito and Patacón Conspiracy.
Friday, August 7, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212260 NE 59th Terr., Miami; 305-960-2969. Afro Roots World Music Festival & Global Locals Showcase. With Conjunto Progreso, Palo!, Los Herederos, Morikeba Kouyate, the Nag Champayons, and DJ Moses.
Saturday, August 8, 5 to 10 p.m. North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-861-3616. Afro Roots World Music Festival Concert. With Hassan Houkmoun, Locos Por Juana, Bateria Unidos de Miami, and DJ Le Spam. Single-day tickets cost $15 at the door. Two-day tickets cost $20 plus fees brownpapertickets.com. All ages. Visit afrorootsfest.com.