Dance music from Colombia, electronic roots reggae from Jamaica, a Tuareg guitar hero, South Florida-based rockers — these and more will be highlighted at the Rhythm Foundation’s annual Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival on Friday and Saturday. “It’s the sound of world music right now,” says Laura Quinlan, the group’s director.
The acts include four from outside the United States who are making their Florida debuts. Saturday night’s headliner is Bombino, a native of Niger born in the Sahara desert. He’s one of the nomadic Tuareg people, whose history of rebellion against colonialism and religious oppression has influenced his life and music. During a period of exile in Algeria, Bombino — born Omara Moctar — spent hours watching videos of musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits. Last year, he teamed with producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys for the album Nomad, which was named to numerous Best Of lists, including NPR Music and Rolling Stone magazine. After the TransAtlantic, he will perform at Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festivals, among others.
Friday’s stars are Astro, an electro quartet from Chile. Daniel Varas, who plays keyboards and percussion with the group, describes its sound as “experimental pop, rock and psychedelia.” Although new to Florida, Astro has performed at Lollapalooza Chile and Colombia’s storied Rock al Parque.
From Colombia comes Esteman, who also plays Friday. A self-described musical-theater geek and performance artist, Esteban Mateus created his Esteman persona before becoming an Internet sensation in 2009 with the song No te metas a mi Facebook (Don’t Hack Into My Facebook). His 2012 debut album, First Act, mixes boleros, 1950s American pop, rockabilly, country-western and tropical sounds.
Jamaican trio the The Courtney John Project, a trio from Jamaica, brings its their mix of reggae and electronica — which the group has they’ve dubbed “rootstronic” — to the stage on Saturday. Singer and composer Courtney John, collaborating with producer Natassja “The Wizard” Hammond, says that the experience of creating a song for an Oliver Stone movie led the band away from traditional reggae. “The song wasn’t chosen for the movie, but Soul of a Man made us realize that our energy was undeniable,” John says. “This track started the new sound that we call ‘rootstronic’ — where ‘roots’ is the foundation and ‘tronics’ was the innovation.”
As always, the festival will also feature homegrown bands. “There is very definitely a Miami sound, and it’s something that should be celebrated worldwide,” Quinlan says. “It’s great to put our bands up on a par with the most interesting acts in world music today.”
This year the Miami sound will be represented on Friday by Tremends, a bilingual trio that counts Spanish-language rock nacional among their influences; and on Saturday by dance-music duo Afrobeta, which calls itself “the love child of [members] Smurphio and Cuci Amador.” They have released an EP, Do You Party, and an album, Under the Streets.
Quinlan is proud that the nonprofit Rhythm Foundation has presented TransAtlantic for 12 years now. During that time, many other such events have come and gone, she notes. “We haven’t created a giant music festival, but we have created a solid music festival.”
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