About Valerie Naranjo, Ichitey James, Barry Olsen and friends

Born into a prominent musical family, Ichitey James is one of Ghana’s foremost gyil artists, unique in his extensive knowledge of the instrument, as well as that of kuar and gangaa, the drums that accompany it. PAS HoF, SNL percussionist, and NYU African performing arts professor Valerie Naranjo has researched gyil music since 1981. During the first of her 29 summers in Ghana, she affected a chiefly decree allowing women to play gyil in public for the first time, so that she could participate in Ghana’s Kobine festival, for which she and Barry Olsen receive a first place award in 1996. Multi-instrumentalist Barry Olsen has performed with the greats of jazz and African/Cuban music. He and Valerie have played duo gyil and kuar music in the U.S. and internationally since 1989. All three have enjoyed a long relationship with one another, and with Kakraba Lobi, the founding gyil maestro of Ghana’s National Dance Company. Kakraba is Ichitey’s uncle and mentor. Valerie studied and performed with Kakraba for 17 years, including four PASIC performances, and published, with him “West African Music for the Marimba Soloist”, “Joro” for gyil and orchestra, and “Tierra Pura” for gyil and wind ensemble, in an effort to share the West African aspect of the chromatic marimba’s origin and spiritual side. The three young gyil/gangaa/kokolele players appearing are Valerie’s students.