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Bernard Woma Ensemble

The Bernard Woma Ensemble is led by virtuoso Ghanaian musician Bernard Woma. Bernard is joined in the group by his musical protégés Kofi Ameyaw and Mark Stone along with master dancers Sulley Imoro and Peace Elewonu. Together they perform Woma's innovative compositions for the gyil, as well as traditional Ghanaian repretoire. Bernard's music has been performed throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and America where in a Carnegie Hall performance it was described as “rhythmically vital” by the New York Times. The group recently made their debut performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and is featured on the Jumbie Records recording Bernard Woma in Concert.

Bernard Woma Ensemble at Avery Fisher Hall
Bernard Woma Ensemble at Lincoln Center

The Instruments:
The Gyil (plural-gyile) is a xylophone played by the Dagara people at funerals, seasonal festivals, religious ceremonies, and recreational gatherings. It is made of tuned wooden keys suspended on a wooden frame above gourd resonators. Spider egg-sack casings are stretched over holes cut in the gourds to give the instrument its distinctive buzzing sound.

The Kuor (plural-koi) is a hand drum made by stretching a monitor lizard skin over the opening of a large gourd. It is used to accompany Dagara xylophone music.

The Musicians:
Bernard Woma is from the Gbaane clan of the Dagara people. He was born in the village of Hiineteng, located in Northwestern Ghana. When he was born, his hands were clenched in fists as if clutching xylophone mallets. A village elder informed Bernard's father that this hand position indicated that Bernard was destined to become a xylophone player. His father then purchased a pair of xylophones and by the age of two Bernard was playing the gyil. Bernard quickly mastered the Dagara music and was awarded the title of "Best Xylophonist" at the local Kakube festival. In 1989, after moving to the south of Ghana, Bernard joined the National Dance Company as a solo xylophonist. In 1993, he was appointed master drummer of the company. With the National Dance Company of Ghana and as a solo artist he has toured Europe, North America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. Bernard is also the founder, teacher, and director of the Dagara Music Center and the leader of the award winning Dagara Cultural Troupe.

Bernard Woma Ensemble

Mark Stone, from Waterford, Michigan, holds degrees in percussion performance from the University of Michigan and West Virginia University. In 1992, as an exchange student from the U of M visiting the University of Ghana, he traveled throughout Ghana, West Africa, to study its rich musical traditions. While in Ghana, Mark studied the gyil extensively with Bernard Woma. In 1996, Mark returned to Africa to study the musical traditions of Uganda as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. During a research trip to Trinidad in 2001, he performed throughout the carnival festivities as a member of a steel drum ensemble. Mark also performs regularly in NYC with the innovative jazz ensemble, Imaginary Homeland. He currently teaches courses in music history and directs the African Ensemble and Steel Band at Oakland University. Mark also directs the Michigan-based Biakuye Unity Ensemble.

While growing up in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, Kofi Ameyaw was exposed to many styles of African music. As a teenager he joined the junior Pan-African Orchestra where he developed his skills as a xylophonist and hand drummer. His talent was quickly recognized and he was eventually promoted to the senior professional group. As a member of the Pan African Orchestra he toured North America and Europe performing at major concert venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

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