Saturday
Aug152015

The Bewaa Chronology

Vol. I - solo recording (piano, vibraphone, gyil and percussion)
Vol. II - live chamber jazz ensemble (double piano, rhodes, vibraphone, gyil, xylophone, bass, drums)
Vol. III - the Threesome Sessions (Brittany Anjou - nordelectro & gyil, Mara Rosenbloom - nordelectro)

Thursday
Jun062013

Tuesday
Jan112011

Bewaa is a tradition of Ghanaian xylophone, taught by master xylophonist Bernard Woma at the Dagara Music Center in Medie, Ghana. Traditional Ghanaian xylophone is performed with two xylophonists and a percussionist, often accompanied by a dance and drum troupe during social gatherings, dances, and concert performances. The music is usually performed on two xylophones, but taught on one xylophone, with the student opposite the master, who teaches the patterns backwards. The student must learn all patterns facing forward, before attempting to perform them on the opposite side of the gyil. 

The Ghanaian xylophone is simply called the gyil (pronounced JEEL or JEE-lee), is one of my favorite instruments to play. My album chronology, BEWAA, is an homage to the music I studied with Bernard Woma, Jerome Balsab, and Alfred Kpebsaane while living in Ghana in 2006 and indicates my relationship exploring the music and instrument. Bewaa is a genre of songs for social dancing, including funeral music. "Bewaa" is the Dagara pronunciation of "bawa" (the Lobi and Sissala pronunciation). Fanastic gyil musicians include Aaron Bebe Sukura (University of Ghana), SK Kakraba, and the late Kakraba Lobi. Traditional West African has inspired artists for centuries, notably influencing Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. 

What is the gyil made of?

The gyil has 14 wooden bars woven together by string, twine, and goat skin. Each bar is smoked for three weeks (to prevent change in intonation) and amplified by prepared gourds that are carefully tuned to each bar. Each gourd has three holes that are covered with spider sac paper. This paper gives the instrument its buzzy timbre and overtones. My gyil was made by Tijian Lobi, tuned to Bernard Woma's instrument. 

Tuning

C# +40 cents
B + 20 cents
A -23 cents
F# +35-40 cents
E +15 cents
D
C -35 cents
A +20-23 cents
G -15/20 cents
E +50 cents
D# -2 cents
B +25 cents
A -2 cents
G -40 cents

Because of this tuning, we've enjoyed making lots of clashing tonalities in BEWAA. I've become attached to writing music for BEWAA (gyil, piano, vibraphone, bass, drums) surrounding B minor, F# minor, and G keys.