Thursday, July 26 -Wednesday, August, 1, 2007
Kakraba Lobi: The Last Xylophone
By: NII LARYEA KORLEY
MASTER xylophonist, Kakraba Lobi, died at the Ridge Hospital in Accra last Friday. According to hospital sources, the 68-year old virtuoso died of pneumonia. Kakraba’s nephew, S.K. Lobi, a xylophone player with the Hewale Sounds, said his uncle was taken ill late on Tuesday night and was rushed to the Ridge Hospital early on Wednesday where he died two days later.
“It is a tragic loss because his standard of performance was so very high. He was not only a fluent player but also had an extremely sharp musical mind. The way he could pick a theme and modify it on the xylophone was just amazing. You never got bored listening to him,” said the world renowned musicologist, Prof. Kwabena Nketia who met the late Kakraba in 1959 and worked with him for many years at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.
Kakraba hailed from Saru in the Northern Region. He learnt to play the xylophone at an early age and that became his ticket to the world. He was widely traveled and the late Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, was said to have asked for an encore when she heard Kakraba play at an official function in Tel Aviv in the early 1970s.
Kakraba had no idea of what was beckoning when he headed for Accra from the Northern Region as a strappling young man eager to impress anyone who would listen with his skills on the xylophone. He took to playing at petrol filling stations where motorists tossed him pennies for the way he blended tunes from his region with popular highlife pieces. A song he was said to have loved playing was King Bruce’s Nkuu See Mbaa Donn which was very popular then. Prof. Nketia recollects the era.
“It was in 1959. I had heard there was somebody playing xylophone at petrol stations around Accra and I was curious to meet him. I managed to find and brought him to the university. I was then a research fellow in African Studies in the Sociology Department. I was doing music research and was going all over the place recording Ghanaian traditional music. It was fascinating to meet Kakraba because though I knew about xylophones I had not yet been to the north to record music from there. It was great meeting him.
I regarded him as a master musician even then. He had devised a way of performing on his own. His dexterity was amazing. I gave him a job in my office as a kind of research assistant. He was one of the first people we recruited into the Ghana Dance Ensemble when it was formed around 1963”.
The Dance Ensemble went on performance tours to many countries with Kakraba. It was on one of such trips to Isreal. That he impressed the then Prime Minister. That trip was important for Kakraba in another way. He met an Iranian master musician who played a traditional instrument similar to the xylophone called Sanuro.
“Kakraba and this fellow became friends they admired each other and I think the Iranian player’s approach to his instrument greatly influenced Kakraba’s way of thinking about his music. He played so well that Golda Meir asked for a repeat performance. Everybody was fascinated. So anytime I had to travel abroad and it was possible, I took him along,” stated Prof. Nketia.
The demand on Kakraba to perform abroad became excessive and he resigned from the university to work as an independent professional musician. He imparted his knowledge to many and played concerts regularly in the United States and Japan. Students wrote dissertations on him and his music.
Kakraba was not very lettered but that was no hindrance at all to what he could do. He knew enough to communicate and get around in international assignment was in the United States last March at the invitation of choreographer, Nii Yartey.
“His flair, energy, concentration and finesse on the xylophone never diminished. He was a great musician”, stated Nii Yartey about the man whom he worked with for several years in the Ghana Dance Ensemble.
Funeral arrangements for the late Kakraba are yet to be announced.
GRAPHIC SHOWBIZ- Thurs., July 26 –Wed. Aug., 1, 2007 Page: 2