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Zie Mwea (Natural Conditions)
Ancient Keyboard Music of West Africa

Music for Gyil, Kuar, Voices and Dancing.

South of the Sahara Desert in West Africa there is long standing tradition of solo marimba artistry on an instrument called "gyil." In the gyil tradition, every rural community has its own style of playing, its own tonality, and its own musical masters.

The only schools to cultivate this national treasure are private apprenticeships with the gyil master. This type of school is straight forward and strict. If you have a keen interest (and oblidging parents who willing to buy you a pair of instruments) you might consider "enrolling." Then, if the community (via the master musician) evaluates you to be of high character, you are enrolled. If you are intelligent and observant, you will begin to grasp the complicated and extensive "literature." If you're dedicated for long time you'll be able to play, and if you play well enough, often enough, and for a long enough time, the master musician will allow you to play publicly.

The village gyil master is also, much like a doctor, on call to heal emotional or physical illnesses. He is especially important as the initiator of the funeral, the Lobi's and Dagara's most important rite of passage. Among those who have travelled to perform and teach outside of the land of the Lobi nation, only two have gained an international reputation. Bernard Woma is one of those.

The Gyil (pronounced JEE-lee) is made from wooden slats that are suspended on a frame over calabash gourds. Each gourd has one to several holes that support a mirlitron of spider's film which allows each bar to produce a column of buzzing air. Its timbre is somewhat like the Western marimba, yet "earthen" in character. Gyil music is to the ear as a kaleidoscope looks to the eye Ñ a dazzling matrix of consistent yet ever-changing interlocking elements engaged in dynamic conversation. It's curious to find that such a powerful sound can soothe so much. People believe that the gyill's "woody" quality comes from a water vibration that physically balances the water in the bodies of humans and animals, able to heal maladies of the body mind and spirit.

The hand drum Kuar is the gyil's most important musical mate. It is made from a large calabash with a head of crocodile or alligator hide.

For additional information about the gyil and our complete catalogue of West African recorded and transcribed music visit

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