Percussive Notes (PASIC 2000), Valerie Naranjo
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 community’s history to be able to advise and evaluate younger musicians, and to serve the community’s 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 you’re dedicated for a long time you’ll 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 world’s gyil spokesperson.
In Ghana KAKRABA LOBI is one of the only living virtuosi to have mastered the instrument’s 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 Ghana’s 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 Ghana’s 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.
She’s performed 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 NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” Band.Barry Olsen is a native New Yorker who began his professional career in the late 70’s playing trombone in that city’s 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 Swartz’s 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 year’s 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.