Ghanaian music virtuoso to return in World Music Series

Chis Swade

As part of its commitment to providing a diverse array of opportunities for its students, Lawrence established the World Music Series. The goal of this series is to bring in artists and lecturers who either represent musical traditions of foreign cultures or whose work focuses on foreign musical traditions. On Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 9:15 p.m. in Harper Hall, the World Music Series will welcome back West African xylophone legend Kakraba Lobi of Ghana and his student and accomplished American percussionist Valerie Dee Naranjo from New York City to present “An Introduction to West African Keyboard Music.” Lobi and Naranjo last visited Lawrence two years ago as part of the series.

Lobi is a master of the gyil (pronounced jee-lee), commonly referred to as the African xylophone or balophone. The gyil is one of many types of mallet-played keyboards found in various regions of Africa. It is believed that these African instruments are predecessers of the Guatemalan marimba.

The gyil carries with it a thriving repertoire in Lobi communities and is experiencing a rise in popularity in the new world music market.

The gyil is a pentatonic instrument played with two mallets. The left hand typically plays an ostinato while the right plays the melody or improvises. The bars of the keyboards are hand carved and tuned out of wood, while dried tuned gourds act as resonators underneath the bars. They gyil is typically played at funerals and festivals.

Born sometime between 1935 and 1939 to a family of musicians in the village of Saru in northwest Ghana, Lobi was given the name Kusinyire. He later officially took the name of Kakraba Lobi (Lobi as a reference to his ethnic origin with the Lobi people) when he moved to the city of Dawurampong. Later he moved to the Ghanaian capital city of Accra.

In Accra, Lobi endured manipulation and extortion of his talents in the Lobi musical tradition, ultimately establishing himself as the premier gyil performer. He eventually went on to teach at the Institute of African Studies, and currently lives in Accra and travels a great deal to Europe and the United States.

Lobi’s student, Valerie Dee Naranjo, is a classically western-trained percussionist. She was one of the original percussionists in the innovative musical stage version of *The Lion King. She also is the percussionist for the Saturday Night Live house band, where she has received accolades.

Naranjo was also recently featured in the magazine Modern Drummer, one of the leading professional drum/percussion periodicals. She is an accomplished marimbist and has published a set of transcriptions and arrangements of traditional gyil pieces for marimba, helping to make its rich and vibrant music more accessible to American percussionists.

Look for these two artists to give dynamic performances with some commentary on the origins and characteristics of the gyil and gyil repertoire.