Dagaare: Musical Instruments

The Gyil:

The gyil, also known as xylophone, bala or balafone are tunned to the pentatonic scale. In Ghana there are three different The gyil is the primary instrument of three differnt tribe in Ghana; the Dagaare, the Lobi and the Sasaala. The instrument is traditionally made with 14 or 18 wooden keys of an African hardwood, called liga, or the Shea Butter Tree attached to a wooden frame, below which hang resonaters made fronm calabash and gourd. On the resonators spider web silk covers small holes in the gourds to produce a buzzing sound, nowadays that spiders silk web is replaced by rizzala paper, plastic bags or commonly now a delicatesant paper bag or airmail envelope which containes both paper and plastic. Antelope sinew and leather, or nylon rope are used to hold the notes together, while cow skin is bound around the frame to secure its sturdyness.The instrument is played by striking the keys with wooden beaters with rubber heads, the rubber heads are traditionally from the rubber tree, but now more commonly from truck tyres.
The gyil is usually played in pairs, accompanied by a drum.  It can also be played by one  person with the drum and the stick part as accompaniment, or by a soloist.


The Xylophone (Gyil) in Ghana is mostly played in the Northern Region by the Dagaare, Sisaala and the Lobi people, whose territory also extends into Burkina Faso.In certain areas the instrument is considered to be scared and played only for funerals, but generally xylophones are used for all kind of musical occasions. (weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, popular events and any large gatherings). The Dagaara still play it today as a symbol of unity during gatherings to entertain the public.Xylophone making is considered sacred and for generations had been known to some very few families only. The knowledge has been passed from father to son by way of initiation. The Dagaars believe in the concept of One Allmighty God far away somewhere, who is in charge of all living things and beings on Earth and responsible for their actions. Therefore in ritual ceremonies tunes are played that are not to be used for ordinary occassions.

The Lobi Gyile.

Kakraba Lobi

The Sasaala Gyile

The Dagare Gyile


Aaron Sukra Bebe

The Modern Xylophone:

The modern xylophone, is a complex assemble of various natural and industrious materials: Redwood is used in constructing the frame.  Cowhide and other skins  are cut into stripes and used in tying the frame or wooden structure together. Gourds are selected for size and then tuned to the exact pitch of the not they are hung under the key to resonate the sound producing a more fuller note. Hardwood (dead Shea Butter trees or Mahogany) is used for the keys. It is kilndried or seasoned and then cut to sizes of the bars. After Suspending it  over an open pit, which serves as a resonator for tuning  the back of the ends. The axe is used to cut out from the centre  to lower the pitch and cut from the end of the keys to raise the pitch. The scale is traditionaly pentatonic, in the modern xylophone the penatonic scale is kept but it is tunned towards  G – A – C – D – E.
The xylophone tuning is a rather relative one ( not getting the perfect C or other key) but rather it equalises the intervals.The keys are assembled on the frame with the gourds by a rope from  twisted antelope skin. Or more commonly now nylon rope.The wood for the keys is rare and can only been found in the Savannah and grassland zones of Northern Ghana and some areas that extend to Burkina Faso. For a tree to be used it must have died roughly five years previously, say in a bush fire. It will then be cut down cut into planks and the placed in a home made kilm for 5 days untill the moisture and all from the wood is gone.
The beaters or mallets had traditionally heads from thin stripes of rubber from the rubber tree, wound round the ends of a moulded piece of rounded wood, which is 30 cm long and 2-3 cm diameter thick to have a strong hold in the hand.  The modern version has a circle cut from a truck tyre.

Music by xylophone:

Xylophone is most commonly played in pairs, but can be a solo instrument or as part of a larger group., The two people sit facing eachother, a short distance apart. One playing a lead part the other a more rythmicly and harmonically repetative support part. People learn through hearing the music at a young age, so when they start to actually play they know the music in there head and body before they begin to play. They would play the support parts for many years befor beginning to playing the lead.

Christopher Doozie, the xylophone maker, player and teacher:

Hailing from Jirapa in the Upper West Region of Ghana, Christopher developed interest in playing xylophone already at the age of 6. His father then taught him how to make xylophone when he was 12. By copying his father Christopher mastered and his father initiated him at the age of 15. But also his father stressed on education, so Christopher became a professional and then came to Accra after his Secondary school education when he was 20 years. He then studied and  performed as an instructor at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Legon, Ghana. So he came into the contact of „Modern Xylophone and Music“. He had several appointments, including the National Symphony Orchestra. In 1990 he left the academic field and built up his workshop to construct xylophones.

Dagaare: Dances


One of the oldest traditional dances of the Dagaare speaking people of the Upper west Region of Ghana. Bawaa is a ritual and ceremonial dance performed to celebrate the beginning and end of the rainy season, good harvest, New Year and other social events.Bamaaya
Bamaaya, meaning, “The river (valley) is wet”, is the most popular social music and dance of the Dagbamba of Northern Ghana. It began as a religious musical performance, but now functions during funerals, festivals, national day celebrations, and other social occasions. Dancing the Bamaaya requires a lot of waist movement and twisting. The maiden name for this music and dance, Tubankpeli, is now the main dance movement. Originally, only men took part in the dance while the women would sing, shout praises, and encourage the dancers. Now, Bamaaya is for both genders.