ARTICLE FOR PERCUSSIVE
NOTES (PASIC 2000)
South of the Sahara
Desert in West Africa there is a a long standing tradition of solo marimba
artistry. In this region every rural community has its own style of
playing, its own tonality, and its own musical masters, who have enough
experience playing and making the instrument and studying the communitys history
to be able to advise and evaluate younger musicians, and to serve the
communitys most demanding musical events.
The only schools to
cultivate this national treasure are private apprenticeships with the
masters and the example of them actually playing the music. This type
of school is straight forward and strict. If you have an interest (
and oblidging parents who are willing to allow you to earn the money
for an instrument) you might begin to consider enrolling. If, then,
the community (via the gyil master) 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 youre
dedicated for a long time youll be able to play, and if you play
well enough, often enough, and for a long enough time, the academic
advisor will allow you to play publicly. Once you pass your initiation
into young manhood (to date no young women are playing gyil) you may
be allowed to play for the funeral - the only real honor for a gyil player.
If you are especially
brilliant and fortunate, your practice will allow you to travel. Of those
who have travelled outside of the land of the Lobi nation, Kakraba
has assumed the responsibility of international artist. He is a musical
living legend, considered, in his homeland, to be the worlds
In Ghana KAKRABA LOBI is one of the only living virtuosi to have mastered
the instruments vast and difficult repertoire, and to have gained
international acclaim as a concert soloist.
He was born in Kalba
Saru in the Lobi and Brifo area of Upper west Ghana in 1939. His father
is a farmer who was also highly skilled in the art of making and playing
Gyil, like his father before him. His brothers, too, make and play gyil.
As a child, Kakraba watched and listened intently, and thus became involved
in the family tradition.
When he was old enough,
Kakraba traveled south to the city of Accra where he was invited by many
people to perform. He gave broadcasts for radio Ghana, and in 1957 Professor
J. H. Nketia offered him a teaching post in the Institute of African Studies.
From 1962 until 1987 Kakraba was a full-time member, and is presently
an advising member of the staff at the Institute. He guest lectures at
universities in Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, and the United States, and
has performed throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. His particular
approach to composing and improvising has been studied by percussionists
and ethnomusicologists from around the world.
Valerie Dee Naranjo
fell in love with the gyil when she first heard the record Kakraba
Lobi, Xylophone Player from Ghana while researching solo keyboard
percussion music from the African continent. In 1988, during her first
journey to Ghanas Upper-west region, she affected a chiefly decree
that women be allowed for the first time to play gyil in public, at which
time she performed in Ghanas Kobine festival of traditional arts.
In 1996 she returned to perform in Kobine with Barry Olsen, whence they
garnered a first place award (the only non-Ghanaians to date to do so).
She spends most autumn seasons among the Lobi and Dagara people in Ghana.
and recorded with the likes of Tori Amos, Selena, David Byrne, Philip
Glass, Airto Moreira, Zakir Hussein, Glen Velez and Roy Haynes, and co-directs
the multi-instrumental quintet Mandara. She arranged the percussion books
for the Broadway hit The Lion King and performs in The
Lion King Orchestra and in NBCs Saturday Night Live
Band.Barry Olsen is a native New Yorker who began his professional career
in the late 70s playing trombone in that citys Latin dance
music scene, then recently dubbed Salsa. Over the years he
has performed with almost all the major artists in this field, including
Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Hector Lavoe,Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Marc
Anthony, and La India. He has also worked with Paul Simon, David Byrne,
Charlie Persip and many others.
In 1994 Barry appeared
on the recording Ancestral Healing by South African artist
Pops Mohammed, which subsequently led to an invitation to record the CD
Jazzin Universally in South Africa with Airto Moreira,
Jose Neto, Valerie Naranjo, and many outstanding musicians from that
country. Since then he has been a frequent addition to the jazz group
Ingoma, led by South African saxophonist and composer Zim Ngqawana, having
toured with them in Europe and the U.S., as well as in their home country.
More recently he has
been gaining a reputation as a pianist and percussionist. He is the regular
pianist for the Latin-Jazz group Syotos, led by trombonist Chris Washburne
and is featured on their recording Nuyorican Nights. He also
appears often with Harvie Swartzs band Eye Contact, playing both
piano and trombone. On marimba and percussion he is frequently heard in
the orchestra of The Lion King.Kakraba and Valerie have been
performing in Ghana for several years.The trio (with Barry) completed
their first American tour last autumn. At PASIC 2000 they will be involved
in two events.
The concert (Friday
at 3 PM) builds on last years concert/clinic of traditional solo
and chamber music on gyil and two other tradidional Lobi chamber instruments,
by directly combining gyil, kakarama (tradional mouth bow), and kokolele
(eight-bar xylophone) with marimba, and Western percussion.
The intro session
(Saturday at 11 AM) will delve into these relationships directly by, comparing,
via traditional pieces, the topography of the gyil versus that of the
chromatic marimba. Plenty of gyils will be on hand.