Lobi Musicians: Kakraba

Mobile_29_April_09_015Kakraba Lobi was born in Kalba Suru in the Lobil Brifo and Dagara area of Upper West Region of Ghana.
As a child Kakraba was taught how to play the pentatonic wooden gyil xylophone by his father. The gyil xylophone occupies a central place in community life and is played at weddings, funerals and festival dances. The instruments are played alone, in pairs, or in ensembles with singers and drummers. In the 1950s Kakraba went to Accra, where he performed in programs for Radio Ghana and in 1957 he met Professor Nketia, who offered him a teaching position at the Institute of African Studies where he was a full-time teacher until 1987. Over the years, he has been a guest lecturer in Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, the U.S. and Africa, which has resulted in creating hundreds of gyil disciples worldwide, especially in Japan. In 2000 Kakraba released the ‘Song of Legaa’ CD followed in 2004 by the ‘Song of Niira’. In both he was accompanied and produced by Valery Naranjo and Barry Olsen and the CD was released on the Kaleidoscope Sound label in the United States. Kakraba’s son,S.K., has also become an excellent gyil player and is a member of Hewale Sounds.

Lobi Musical Instruments: Gyile

14_Key_ProThe instrument is made with 14 wooden keys of an African hardwood called liga attached to a wooden frame, below which hang calabash gourds. Spider web silk covers small holes in the gourds to produce a buzzing sound, and antelope sinew and leather are used for the fastenings. The instrument is played by striking the keys with wooden mallets with rubber heads. The instrument is generally played by men, who learn to play while young, however, there is no restriction on gender. The gyil is usually played in pairs, accompanied by a calabash gourd drum called a kuor. It can also be played by one person with the drum and the stick part as accompaniment, or by a soloist.


Lobi: Background

Lobi is a loose term which refers to several closely related ethnic groups that comprise roughly 7% of the Burkinabe population including the main Lobi clan Birfor, Dagara, Dyan, Gan, and Tenbo/Loron. Although traditions may vary slightly between clans, they share a common sense of identify and traits such as living in distinctive mud defensive compounds, using poisoned bows and arrows to fend off attackers, a sharing of initiation rites and animist beliefs that vigorously pay reverence to the spiritual world, families that are often determined by female lineage, and their craftsmenship of wooden statues which are often worshipped.

The name Lobi originates from two Lobiri words lou (meaning forest) and bi (meaning children), literally “Children of the forest” who settled initially on the left bank of the Mounhoun River dividing Burkina and Ghana who ventured into Burkina Faso. The Mounhoun is important in Lobi myth and symbolizes a dividing line between this world and the next, similar to the River Stzx of Roman mythology. The Lobi crossed the Mounhoun centuries ago from east to west and settled in the lands and brought with them deep animist beliefs and superstition. According to Lobi legend, the spirits of the deceased must return across the river to rejoin their honorable ancestors in the ancient world. The banks of the Mounhoun are used in initiation rites and fish and animals in the river are considered sacred.