Bernard Woma, with
Mark Stone & Kofi Ameyaw,
In Concert
(Jumbie, 2003)

This is unique and wonderful music.

Bernard Woma plays the gyil, a close relative to the marimba used by the Dagara people of Ghana for funerals, ceremonies and other gatherings. It is sometimes played in pairs. On this CD, Woma does some solo works, and Mark Stone also plays the instrument on several tracks. Stone, who produced this CD, is a music teacher and former student of Woma's. Kofi Ameyaw plays the kuor, a hand drum created by stretching a monitor lizard skin over the opening of a large gourd. It sounds something like the Indian tabla.

Three tunes are Woma's compositions, and five are traditional. Woma is one of few performers who is playing Dagara music in the West. It will not be off-putting to anyone familiar with African music, however.

There are 10 cuts, two of which are spoken introductions. The first two music tracks are Woma alone, chanting and singing while he plays. It sounds like the music of a thumb piano. On these tracks you can hear a buzzing, which comes from spider egg-sack casings stretched over holes in the gourd resonators.

When Stone and Ameyaw join him for the remainder of the concert, the music becomes more complex. The players work together seamlessly to create a wall of percussion. Stone says the "Binne," the traditional funeral music of the Dagara, is "arguably some of the most complex music on the planet." The trio plays it on tracks eight and ten, with an introduction on track nine.

Woma and Stone show incredible virtuosity on instruments that have a limited range. On the back cover photo, Woma's gyil seems to have only 14 keys, and Stone's appears to be a bit smaller. But the music stays propulsive without being repetitious. Its intricate rhythms would take many listenings to decipher.

This is a CD that should not be missed by anyone who is interested in African traditional music.

by Dave Howell
22 July 2006

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