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In Ghana, Kakraba Lobi is considered to be the gyil’s spokesperson by virtue of being one of the only living virtuosi to have mastered the vast and difficult repertoire, and possibly the only to have gained international acclaim as a concert soloist.
He was born in Kalba Saru in the Lobi and Birifor area of Nothern Ghana in 1939. His father is a farmer who is also highly skilled in the art of xylophone making and playing, like his father before him. His brothers, too, make and play drums and xylophones. As a child, Kakraba watched and listened intently, and thus became involved in the family tradition.
When he was old enough, Kakraba traveled south to the city of Accra where he was invited by many people to perform, and even played out on the streets, earning more than most people with office jobs. He gave broadcasts for Radio Ghana, and in 1957 he was invited to give a concert at the University of Ghana, Legon, where Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia offered him a teaching post in the Institute of African Studies.
From 1962 until 1987, Kakraba was a full-time member of the staff at the Institute. He travels outside Ghana to teach at universities in Germany, Japan, Scandanavia and the United States, and has performed in many other countries, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Sweden and Togo. In addition to his own Lobi and Birifor music, he has learned much of the music of the Ga, Ashanti and Dagati peoples. His repertoire and technique have been studied by ethnomusicologists from around the world.
According to qualified opinion, Kakraba is the finest xylophonist in his Ghana homeland, though he is too modest to claim such a title. His art is deeply rooted in tradition, and by virtue of his personality and extraordinary life circumstances, he has evolved into a world class solo performer.
Kakraba plays a xylophone, Kogili, with fourteen wooden keys. The Kogili has spiritual significance for the Lobi and the Birifor, who believe that it acquires part of the soul of its maker and owner, whose skills are in turn attributable to spirit origin. In order to preserve this spiritual element, various objects may be added to the instrument, such as porcupine quills, ancestral carved figures, crosses cut into the tips of the keys or brass tacks inserted into them.