Awesome Tapes From Africa has been a prolific source for reissued African sounds for a few years now, but the label’s not devoted exclusively to the past. October 2nd sees the release of a brand new album, Songs of Paapieye by SK Kakraba. Currently located in Highland Park in Los Angeles, Kakraba hails from Lobi country in the Upper West Region, Ghana. He plays the gyil, a wooden xylophone suspended over spider-webbed gourds, which resonate and buzz back a deep, rattling sound. Kakraba is singularly devoted to the instrument; when not playing traditional music like that featured on Songs of Paapieye, he builds and sells gyils — “SK pretty much lives and breathes this instrument during waking hours,” ATFA states on its site.
His sound is direct, sublime, and utterly captivating. While his warm, pulsing drones shares harmonic elements with the minimalist compositions of Steve Reich or Terry Riley, his feel is jazzier, earthier, and more folk focused. “In our villages, the gyil was all we knew,” Kakraba told Jeff Weiss at the LA Weekly. “There was no outside radio. It’s our national instrument, played by men, women and children.” Kakraba’s polyrhythms are enveloping, and Awesome Tapes’ first foray into modern sounds is as essential as its archival releases. words / j woodbury