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The Gyil: From Village Tradition to World Instrument Program

Date: January 15th, 2011


Location: Varner Recital Hall 8pm
Short description: Performance and Workshop by Bernard Woma World Renowned Xylophonist/
African Musician Bernard Woma.
Background: The Gyil (plural-gyile) is a xylophone played by the Dagara people of Ghana and
Burkina Faso. It is made of tuned wooden keys suspended on a wooden frame above gourd
resonators. Spider egg-sack casings are stretched over holes cut in the gourds to give the
instrument its distinctive buzzing sound, a sound believed to promote physical and spiritual healing.
In West Africa this instrument is played at funerals, seasonal festivals, religious ceremonies, and
recreational gatherings.
This instrument is at the core of Dagara culture and a gyil player is able to reproduce the Dagara
language on the instruments wooden keys.
As a talking xylophone the gyil speaks the history and proverbs of the Dagara people.
In more recent years the gyil has traveled from rural West Africa to North America, Europe, and Asia
where it has been performed in many of the worlds most famous concert halls, most recently with
symphony orchestras. As the instrument has crossed national borders it has also moved across
cultural frontiers. It has been heard and performed by non-Dagara speakers and as a result has
broadened the musical and cultural perspectives of all cultures who have embraced the instruments
unique sound. In turn, the gyil has been adapted to be performed in new contexts and with new
instruments. These adaptations have gradually made there way back to the culture of origin in
Ghana and Burkina Faso.
About the Guest Artist:
Bernard Woma is the foremost gyil player in the world today. He has shared the performance stage
with celebrated artists such as Maya Angelou, Yo Yo Ma, and Glen Velez. He has performed for
international dignitaries and presidents including U. S. president Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and
Queen Elizabeth II. He was recently honored as the cultural resource person for President Barack
Obama's family when they visited Ghana. He is a true cultural treasure from Ghana who has toured
the world as the mater gyil (xylophone) artist of the National Dance Company of Ghana. Bernard is
an extremely dynamic artist and deeply experienced educator. His recent appearances in the US
include a performance with New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, South Dakota Symphony
Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra, residency with the Ethos Percussion group, performances and
teaching at New York's AXF: African Xylophone Festival, and many universities and colleges. The
performance of his composition "Gyil Nyog Me Na" in the spring of 2006 at Zankel Hall in Carnegie
Hall is a testimony of his musicianship. Bernard is the Artistic Director of the Bernard Woma
Ensemble and Saakumu Dance Troupe.
He is also the founder and director of the Dagara Music and Arts Center in Accra, Ghana.