Bernard Woma Will Present the Ghanaian Gyl in Philadelphia

Bernard Woma - Photo by Dennis Collins
Bernard Woma – Photo by Dennis Collins

On Saturday, October 4, Crossroads Music presents gyil (Ghanaian xylophone) master Bernard Woma. The second of three concerts of West African music at Crossroads this fall, the event is also part of an ongoing series of traditional, ethnic, international and related non-commercial music. It will begin at 7:30 pm at Calvary Center for Culture and Community at 48th Street and Baltimore Avenue.

Tickets are $10-20 and are available both at the concert and in advance from Brown Paper Tickets (via our website or at 1-800-838-3006) and at House of Our Own Books (3920 Spruce Street). A 25% discount is available when tickets for all three West African events are purchased at the same time. Mr. Woma will also teach a workshop on West African percussion on Sunday from noon until 2:00; this class, which is open to students of all levels, will take place at Studio 34 at 4522 Baltimore Avenue and is $5 with concert admission.

Bernard Woma is a master of the gyil, a complex and beautiful xylophone that is the national instrument of the Dagara, Lobi, Birifor, and Sissala peoples of Ghana and Burkina Faso. The gyil is made from fourteen slats of fire-dried hardwood that are suspended with leather cords on a frame of gourds (calabash) resonators. A spider egg sack casing is stretched over one or more holes in each gourd, giving the instrument its distinctive buzzing sound. For centuries, Dagara gyil players have developed an intricate polyphonic style that It includes both sacred compositions for festivals, weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies and secular Bewaa music for dancing and entertainment and is some of the most rhythmically complex music ever recorded.

Woma is from the Gbanne Clan of the Dagara people and was born in Northwestern Ghana, near the border with Burkina Faso. He was born with hands were clenched in fists as if he was clutching xylophone mallets, a sign that he would become a xylophone player. Bernard began formal study of the gyil as a small child, and was soon playing at at funerals, weddings, and in church throughout the region. There he began to set his own words to traditional melodies and compose his own music.

In 1982, he was no longer able to afford school fees and moved to the capital city of Accra, where he worked as a steward. On occasional Sunday evenings off, he played the gyil for traditional dancing in the Dagara neighborhood of Mamobi and he became well-known in the community. As his musical reputation spread, he was offered the position of solo xylophonist for the Ghana Dance Ensemble and was honored with the "Drummer of the Year" award, the only time such an award has been given to a xylophonist. When, the Company moved from the University of Ghana to the National Theatre in 1992, Woma retained his title as solo xylophonist and was also appointed as the master drummer of the Company.

Woma maintains a busy schedule on three continents. He frequently performs with his traditional Bewaa ensemble, the Saakumu Dance Troupe, continues to be a principal member of the National Dance Company of Ghana, and has been the ceremonial Atumpan Drummer for Ghanaian State functions and performed for Bill Clinton and Jerry Rawlings, when the US President visited the Ghanaian president in Accra. He also owns and operates the Dagara Music Center, a school near Accra, gives workshops, lectures and private lessons for musicians throughout Europe and America. He is currently adjunct faculty and director of the African Drumming Ensemble at SUNY Fredonia.


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