Ryan Barber brings the funk to soul

Edwin Arnaudin
Special to The Black Mountain News

What’s soul? What’s funk? And what’s the difference between them?

Ryan Barber believes the definitions depend on one’s perception. And the Asheville vocalist wants to share his interpretation with not only his city, but the entire world - as well as the audience at White Horse Black Mountain Nov. 23

“I come from a huge musical family who exposed me to all types of funky soul since I was in the womb, and I've always gravitated toward the soulful funk that incorporated and blended multiple genres into one,” Barber said, pointing to the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, Cameo, The Whispers, Morris Day & The Time and Stevie Wonder.

“That's why my music comes out as a gumbo mixture of funk, soul, R&B, disco, gospel, blues, classic hip-hop, new jack swing and more, with splashes of jazz throughout the whole thing.”

Backed by respected friends and collaborators Ben Bjorlie (bass), Jeff Knorr (keys) and Nik Hope (drums), he’ll play familiar funky dance tunes as well as plenty of smooth and groovin’ originals, complete with a special tribute to Prince and Michael Jackson — selections that make even more sense after a glance at the numerous bands and ensemble nights with whom Barber regularly performs.

Before he moved to Asheville from Wilkesboro in 2009, Barber played keys, sang and rapped in the banjo/hip-hop fusion band Turbo Pro Project. When the group dismantled, he attempted to make a name for himself in the Asheville hip-hop scene, working with Crazyhorse & Colston, Free Radio, Beni-Hana and others, but noticed people seemed more intrigued by his singing.

As a result, he started his own original band — which he recently relaunched and ranges from a trio to a five-piece — and auditioned to be in other groups, finally landing the lead vocalist spot in the wedding/party band Orange Krush in winter 2011. The group continues to be his bread and butter gig, through which he’s greatly improved his stage presence and energy as well as diversified his musical knowledge by singing a variety of genres.

Barber is also a fixture at Asheville Music Hall’s Tuesday Night Funk Jam, which helped lead to a vocalist gig touring with Grammy-nominated rapper Secret Agent 23 Skidoo alongside fellow Asheville singer Debrissa McKinney. And while he’s a longtime fan of contemporary jazz, Barber says his work with the Alien Music Club that hosts the weekly Jazz Jam on Thursdays at Barley’s Taproom has opened his mind to the traditional side and helped him develop a new appreciation for jazz as a whole.

“Even though these groups are different, to me they all embody the same feel and spirit,” Barber said. “I feel like part of a huge family that actually cares and looks out for one another, especially in the jazz scene. I couldn't ask for a better group of folks to be a part of than the Asheville music community.”

Funk it up!

What: The Ryan Barber Collective

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door