You’re inevitably familiar with the xylophone. In Western culture, it’s a staple in children’s music classes — a toy ostensibly anyone can play. But for the Lobi tribe of northern Ghana, an ancestor of the xylophone called the gyil is a fixture at funeral rituals, a sacred instrument that consoles the souls of the dead as they ascend to the afterlife.
The man who might be the world’s greatest xylophone player sits in the garage of his home in Highland Park, surrounded by a half-dozen personally hand-carved gyil. These aren’t the cheap percussive metal you might remember but thick wooden sleds, 14 bars each, suspended over calabash gourds and affixed with decorative knobs. The tools of a master.
NY Times review:
YONYE SONGS OF PAAPIEYE
SK Kakraba, a xylophonist from Ghana who now lives in Los Angeles, released two dizzying albums in 2015. Mr. Kakraba plays traditional Lobi music from northwestern Ghana on the gyil, a xylophone with gourd resonators that buzz with the silk of spiders’ egg sacs, called paapieye, that is stretched across the gourds’ openings. “Songs of Paapieye” (Awesome Tapes From Africa) is a collection of solo recordings; “Yonye” (Drag City) sometimes adds drums and bells. “Yonye” may be closer to how Lobi groups perform in Ghana but “Songs of Paapieye” is smoother, more absorbing. Even Mr. Kakraba’s solos sound like ensembles: animated dialogues between loping bass lines with a deep buzz and higher, clearer notes that scurry and syncopate with startling independence. Much of what Mr. Kakraba plays — including funeral pieces — is dance music, and it’s propulsive but never predictable.