Finger harp's digits dig the didgeridoo

Staff reports

Last May, the Asheville Electro-Music Festival convened at the White Horse Black Mountain, filling the room with synthesizers, laptops and the eerie glow of massed electronics. One performance that brought down the house was built around the polar opposite - the kalimba, a simple wooden box with attached strips of vibrating steel.

In the virtuosic hands of Kevin Spears, the ancient African instrument became the heart of upbeat, funky soundscapes that melded the organic and electronic into massive grooves. Spears plays host to an all-star cast of cutting-edge world fusion artists when he returns to White Horse Black Mountain Friday, Aug. 26 with Les Amis, Katrina Thissen and John Vorus.

Atlanta-based Kevin Spears is considered one of the planet’s best kalimba players.

Spears, based in Atlanta, is considered one of the planet’s best kalimba players, an accolade that’s matched by his rhythmic inventiveness and compositional prowess. An innovator, he’s incorporated into his own music influences that range from Earth Wind & Fire's classic funk to the best of jazz fusion and sounds from around the globe. It’s a joy to watch him build his compositions onstage as he layers beats and samples in real time, then solos brilliantly over the whole jubilant one-man electronic band.

Spears will be joined at the White Horse by other personally selected world music innovators, and the sheer critical mass of talent almost guarantees some fascinating sit-ins. Les Amis are a band of individually accomplished individual musicians, including two members of Asheville’s Toubab Krewe, who specialize in traditional West African/Ivoiran dance music and Afrobeat. Ryan Reardon provides bass and vocals, Adama Dembele sings and plays djembe. Drew Heller covers guitar and vocals, while Justin Perkins rotates between kora, kamelngoni, guitar and percussion. The combination guarantees lots of wear on the soles of dancing shoes.

Les Amis are a band of individually accomplished individual musicians, including two members of Asheville’s Toubab Krewe.

Gifted Saluda dancer Katrina Thissen’s multicultural influences came early as she grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. Her travels and studies have since taken her to India, Bali, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia and Israel and more. Each place has added color to her personal creative movement aesthetic, which Thissen has dubbed "tribal fusion dance."

The aboriginal Australian didgeridoo is one of the world’s oldest instruments, and one of the simplest. In its basic form, it’s a eucalyptus branch hollowed by termites and played by buzzing the lips to create a low drone. The basic sound is modified with breath pulses, tongued rhythms and vocalizations, and in the hands of a master like Brevard’s John Vorus the "didj" is capable of mesmerizing complexity. Like Spears, Vorus combines the earthy with electronic manipulation to create textures that range from ethereal to thunderous.

World music mashup

Who: Kevin Spears and friends

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 26

Where: White Horse Black Mountain 

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door