On Sunday, June 21, one man traversed the hallways of Odyssey Community School with four didgeridoos in hand, passing a fellow barefooted musician before resuming his load-out. Inside the school’s performance room, where instruments from across the globe filled a loosely defined space on the floor, local rhythm master River Guergeurian encouraged the dozens of expectant attendees to test out a hand drum while waiting for the next act.
The show — a split bill between handpan player Adam Maalouf and “kalimba man” Kevin Spears – was doubly significant for its association with both the fourth annual Asheville Percussion Festival and inaugural Make Music Asheville. Both festivals, hosted by Guerguerian and Jeff Arnal respectively, are multi-day, multi-venue events celebrating Asheville’s commitment to the musical arts.
With three locally made Saraz handpans splayed out before him, Maalouf began the concert. His movements, predominantly controlled taps of the index fingers and thumbs, employed all angles of the steel instruments, with the highest pitches hailing from the underbelly of the bowls.
Pausing between elegant, therapeutic songs, he revealed that his discovery of the now beloved instrument actually took place at a previous iteration of the Asheville Percussion Festival.
Continuing to prop up the crowd’s high spirits, Spears took the stage and began with a kalimba-only number. He soon added loops of live-recorded rhythms – some by tapping the bottom of his kalimba and others employing a drum machine – prompting eager smiles and as much dancing as can be expected from a fully seated crowd.
Before adjourning, the two artists invited Asheville Percussion Festival’s headliner, New York City-based drum guru Bashiri “the Bash-man” Johnson, to round out their ad-hoc trio. Climactic moments of rhythmic synergy drew mid song-applause and awe from the audience before toes went tapping out the door.
For more information about Asheville Percussion Festival and Make Music Asheville, visit ashevillepercussionfestival.com and facebook.com/makemusicasheville. For those who cannot attend the celebrations, here’s a sample clip of Maalouf playing an improvised tune on one of his hanpans: