Album Review: Sk Kakraba – Songs of Paapieye [Awesome Tapes from Africa, 2nd October 2015]

Instantly, a mysterious and fascinating percussive sound appears, full of intricate rhythms, low and dense drones, overlapping melodies and bass patterns, all of which signal originality, improvisation, tradition, virtuosity, coherence and expressivity.  These are the immediate components that can be heard from Sk Kakraba through his masterful performance of the Gyil xylophone.

Gyil performer, builder, seller and teacher, Sk has developed his skills since his childhood in the farming village of Saru, Ghana. Considered to be one of the most famous gyil masters, Sk made his name as a player in the Muslim ghettoes of Accra when he moved there in 1997. His mastery giving Sk the opportunity to teach gyil at the International Centre for African Music and Dance at the University of Ghana.

Since 2011, Sk Kakraba has lived in Los Angeles and four years after his arrival, he recorded a collection of gyil traditional music on his album, Yonye. Since then, Sk has achieved international recognition through his tours and festivals in Europe, the Middle East, West Africa and America. Last year, his new album Songs of Paapieye, recorded in San Francisco by his friend Brian Hogan, has attracted a great deal of attention for better or worse, with many reviews having already appeared since its release.. <

Songs of Paapieye represents for Sk Kakraba, the producer Brian Shimkovitz, and his label Awesome Tapes from Africa, an original and authentic recording of Sk’s preferred song cycles. Since gyil music is a part of both festivities and funerals, the album contains dirges, improvisations on traditional songs, and new compositions. Each of the pieces, from short to long –‘Lubile Prai’, ‘Sopka, ‘Darifu’, ‘Guun’,‘Darikpon Variations’, and ‘Banyere Yo – showcase Sk’s astonishing performance of Ghana’s national instrument.

The same enigmatic and captivating percussive sound that attracts some listeners may be off-putting for others. The album may be still enjoyable after many listens, or may be enough for some after just the once. That would depend on the musical tastes of the listeners and their courage to explore other music. Nevertheless, it is an excellent album.