Ethio Cali is a Los Angeles-based Ethio-Jazz ensemble, led by trumpeter, arranger, and composer Todd Simon. The ensemble’s sublime sound is inspired by the golden age of Ethiopian music of the 1960’s and 70’s, filtered through a lens that is uniquely Los Angeles. Acknowledging the diverse musical foundations of Ethio-Jazz, the ensemble also draws inspiration from the rhythmic and melodic textures across Africa, Central/Latin America and the Caribbean.
Ethio Cali features:
Todd Simon – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Music Director
Randal Fisher – Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Flute
Kibrom Birhane – Keys and Vocals
Alan Lightner – Steel Pan
Damon Aaron – Guitar
Pat Bailey – Bass
Kahlil Cummings & Steve Haney – Percussion
Te’Amir Yohannes Sweeney – Drums
Tylana Renga – Violin
Kamasi Washington – Tenor Saxophone
Justo Almario– Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet
SK Kakraba Band
SK Kakraba is master of the gyil, a Ghanaian xylophone made of 14 wooden slats strung across calabash gourd resonators. The buzzy rattle emitted with each note comes from the silk walls of spiders’ egg sacs stretched across holes in the gourds, called paapieye in Lobi language. The gyil’s earthy sound can be heard in parts of Upper West and Northern Regions of Ghana, as well as Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and beyond, where it goes by other names.
The characteristic buzzing timbre might sound odd to foreign ears. But this distortion is just one of the beautifying sensibilities crucial to SK’s gyil music, which he learned as a child from elders in his Lobi community in the far northwest reaches of Ghana. It’s the national instrument of the Lobi people.
His uncle Kakraba Lobi—heretofore described as his father in biographies but technically SK’s uncle—is the recognized master of the gyil, having performed, recorded and taught worldwide as a Lobi musical ambassador. Lobi’s renown in ethnomusicology circles cannot be understated and his contribution to J.H. Kwabena Nketia’s legendary Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana, Legon is immeasurable. Lobi passed away in 2007 and his “son” SK has been carrying the torch ever since.
SK learned traditional music in Saru, a small farming community in Northern Region, Ghana. When he was very young he was always listening to xylophonists play and he would grab the beaters and start to learn what he heard them play, especially when his family members were performing. When SK played something incorrectly, he was shown the right way. Most of his family are also gyil players, in addition to his uncle Kakraba Lobi. Over time, he learned a large repertoire and became a working master of the instrument. He kept learning until Lobi brought SK to Accra to work as a performer and instructor.