Spears is famous for bringing the ancient African instrument, the kalimba, into contemporary jazz and electronic music. The kalimba or mbira has been played in Africa for thousands of years. The Shona people of Zimbabwe are noted for the use of the kalimba in their music. It is made of a wooden box and metal tines that are tuned differently from family to family. It is played by the thumbs and is often called a thumb piano. Although it appears to be simple, it has many modes of playing and its scales and rhythms can be quite complex.
In Spears’ performances the kalimba is central, but is augmented with modern technologies and other instruments.
What drew you to the kalimba?
What drew me to kalimba was when I was 10 and I pulled out an old Earth, Wind & Fire album – “Open Our Eyes,” I think – and saw a picture of the leader Maurice White with this strange and crazy instrument he called kalimba. So once I listened to the album and especially the songs with kalimba, I became infatuated with the instrument and begged my mother to buy me one for Christmas.. Once she bought that first kalimba I’ve been hooked ever since. For the next 25 years, the kalimba became like medicine for my soul and I played it on a daily basis..And the rest is history.
Are there other instruments you play as well?
Electric kalimba, acoustic and electronic percussion, vocals, Native American flute, midi synth configurations and I play the iPad, which I incorporate a lot into my live shows. Additionally I design and build many of my own instruments.
How do you combine an ancient instrument like the kalimba with modern musical technologies?
Combining a traditional instrument with modern technology is a book unto itself. I believe one must honor the instrument, it’s history, tonality and the players of the instrument. Once you understand and have a command of what has been done in a traditional sense, I believe we must find our own voice through the instrument. Just as our life experiences shape who we are, these same experiences can and should be brought to life through creative and musical expression in an honest and humble way with the intent to uplift humanity and ourselves as musicians and artists. I would also say nature and being one with the spirit of love helps us to communicate and be a vessel through which beautiful music can flow and touch others in a way that energizes and heals at the same time.
What the audience can expect with this show?
It will be a crazy mix of funk-jazz, Latin and Afro-beat with a dash of rock that will stir your soul and move your feet. Bring you’re dancing shoes that’s for sure. This show will be very different for me because although I’m known internationally as a solo one-man band. I will bring my talented band featuring Emrah Kotan on drums/percussion, Ali Barr on trumpet and djembe and a young gifted electric bass player by the name of Charles Platt Jr. So it’s going to definitely be a night to remember and the admission is free.
For more information visit facebook.com/GibsJazzBarLounge.
Franklin Abbott’s new CD is Don’t Go Back To Sleep.