Master kalimba player Kevin Spears and Roy “Future Man” Wooten at the White Horse, Jan. 28

Press release from White Horse Black Mountain:

It seems a wonder that the walls of the White Horse Black Mountain have been able contain the the sheer mass of talent that has appeared on its stage over its eight years of operation. That ability may be put to the test on Saturday, January 28th at 8 p.m. when kalimba virtuoso Kevin Spears and Roy “FutureMan” Wooten, two brilliant explorers of danceable percussive electronica, will team up for an uplifting tour de force show.

In the hands of Kevin Spears the ancient African thumb piano journeys through an electronic landscape to emerge as a powerful voice for both tradition and innovation. The basic idea is simple: a row of springy tuned metal strips fastened to a wooden sound box and plucked with the thumbs, producing an almost xylophone like tone. But Spears’ virtuosic technique and wide ranging musical vision are anything but simple.

Kevin Spears first spotted the kalimba in 1974 in a photo of the late Maurice White on an Earth, Wind and Fire album cover, and it soon became the focus of his life. As his gigs moved into larger venues the use of a pickup for amplification became a must. The introduction of electronic timbres and effects mushroomed, becoming a signature component of Spears’ compositions. His kalimba pieces include composed and improvisational elements, with rhythmic, bass and chordal loops layered to create a platform for soloing. Digital magic makes the kalimba sound like a bass, electric guitar, a horn section, electric piano and various percussion instruments, transforming Spears into a one man orchestra.

While it’s important to Spears to honor the African roots of his chosen instrument, his penchant for pushing the envelope has earned comparisons to innovators like Herbie Hancock, Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and Charlie Parker. Guiding all Spears’ diverse musical adventures is a freeing mantra he learned long ago: ”There are no rules, just good taste.”

Five time Grammy winner Roy “Future Man” Wooten is best known for his iconic work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, playing alongside the trailblazing banjoist, multi-instrumantalist Howard Levy, and older brother Victor Wooten, a virtuoso bass player. Stalking the stage decked out like a high-tech pirate, he taps out intricate drum patterns on his Synthaxe Drumitar. The dizzying array of buttons on his instrument, which resembles an alien guitar, allows him to trigger sounds from a synthesizer module that can range from standard drum kit timbres to world percussion and regions where no sound has gone before. He’s essentially able to use each finger as a separate drumstick, enabling him to conjure up elaborate polyrhythms in real time.

In addition to performing and composing, Future Man, also known as RoyEl or Futche to his many fans, is also an inventor. His current project is “The RoyEl”, a piano-shaped instrument with keys laid out to resemble the periodic table of the elements. “More and more”, says Future Man, “I see the the piano like a drum set and the drum set like a piano.” His restless aesthetic has recently produced a symphonic work, Chevalier: II Play & II Fight, with The Black Mozart Ensemble.

True musical visionaries, Spears and Future Man are sometimes considered part of the Afrofuturist movement, which incorporates fantasy, technological and science-fiction elements in creating an Afrocentric narrative for interpreting the past, present and future. Their White Horse show is a rare opportunity to see two wildly creative musical pathfinders on the same stage.

Show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 advance/$12 door.
Tickets available online at

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.