Culture-shock rock

Imagine a world in which the primal pulse of ancient drumming meets the electrified clatter of modern rock — a world in which the rhythmic shimmy of a belly dancer slowly works free from a cocoon of veils.

To a Jungian, such sounds and sights might be expected to ignite ancestral memories. But Ryan Cate of Asheville’s Nomadic Angel says this exotic blend is meant to carry a message: Be and do whatever you desire, without limitation or inhibition.

Nomadic Angel channels African, Island and Middle Eastern sounds, blending a plethora of hand-held percussion instruments, bass and traditional drums to create a rocking gypsy beat whose very cultural diversity keeps it solidly American.

“We’re kind of like ethnic pack rats,” says Cate, the band’s acoustic-guitar player, percussionist, drummer and dancer.

And while Middle Eastern drumming and belly dancing loom large in Nomadic Angel’s performances, the electric sounds generated by Gary Ashe’s guitar and Mark McCullough’s bass give the music a nonspecific, spontaneous twist.

Appropriately, the group’s music has been described as “culture-shock rock.”

The seeds of Nomadic Angel were planted in June of ’94, when Cate moved to Asheville from Chapel Hill, intent on making music in the mountains. Around the same time, McCullough moved to Asheville from Indiana, in search of mountains — and the perfect sunset. The two met through the personals and immediately developed a musical relationship. Soon, Cindy Tippett and Jim Barton were drawn into the fray (although they’re no longer with the band), and Nomadic Angel was born.

“In the beginning,” recalls Cate, “our music was very ethereal and very intimate. We were mainly acoustic, with drums and flute.”

After Tippett and Barton departed, the band added lead guitarist/percussionist Gary Ashe and drummer/percussionist Shannon Ashe. That gave Nomadic Angel’s sound a more progressive (and aggressive) edge — and gave audiences more incentive to put their feet in motion.

Audience participation is a big issue with Nomadic Angel — and we’re not just talking dancing, here. Band members often distribute percussion toys — tambourines, cowbells, shaker eggs — amongst the audience, inviting them to play right along. The more energy, the better, says Cate.

“Sometimes,” she relates, “other drummers will bring their skins to the shows, and we’ll sit around after the set, drumming and dancing for hours. We welcome anyone who wants to play.”

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