Dagar Gyil Ensemble Of Lawra, "Dagara - Gyil Music of Ghana's Upper West Region"
This mesmerizing and unique gem from Sublime Frequencies documents some killer field recordings made by Hisham Mayet in the Upper West region of Ghana back in 2019. I knew absolutely nothing about gyril music before hearing this album, but the most salient detail is that the primary instrument is a traditional xylophone used by the Lobi people. That does not even remotely convey how strange and wonderful these recordings are, but SF's description includes phrases like "long form trance music" and "acoustic techno," and those seem to hit the mark in spirit. To me, this album sounds like a ritualistic drum circle, but way more sophisticated, melodic, and psych-damaged than anything I would expect from actual communal percussion. As with a lot of field-recorded Sublime Frequency fare, it is very easy to dismiss this album as just an interesting window into an underheard culture from a cursory or casual listen. Once I listened to Dagara in a focused way, however, it quickly revealed itself to be something quite transcendent, as it seamlessly merges the otherness of great "experimental" music with an almost ecstatic visceral intensity.
This album is ostensibly composed of two separate pieces that each span one side of vinyl, but the digital version is presented as a single 40-minute track, and the latter is exactly what it feels like. You can drop the needle anywhere on Dagara and roughly expect to get the same thing every time: vibrant percussion rhythms and unusual-sounding, interwoven xylophone melodies. That is primarily because no one piece of the puzzle stands out as particularly brilliant or memorable on its own. That said, the insanely complex web of overlapping rhythms and processed-sounding textures is legitimately amazing. And so is the way that the piece subtly and organically transforms like a dense cloud of migrating birds effortless shifting direction in perfect unison. It all cumulatively amounts to something psychedelic as hell, leading me to both envy whatever wavelength these cats are on AND marvel at how they managed to get there in perfect harmony. This is total hive mind, wheels-within-wheels territory in the best way. Beyond that, I would describe the overall aesthetic as "a tropical steel drum band went to India to study classical raga and Eastern spirituality and returned home completely unrecognizable and waaaaaay into psychedelics." That is a compliment (I would totally listen to such a band), but it also feels like that hypothetical band was then grist for a killer sound collage by a great tape artist. While I assume this was recorded entirely live, the smearing, deep vibraphone-like tones and the stammering, hesitating melodies sound alien and hallucinatory, similar to a serendipitous pile-up of unrelated loops locking gloriously in sync. There is much happening and all of it is interesting. In fact, I would be truly hard pressed to think of a "complex polyrhythm" opus from the 20th century avant-garde that could beat this ensemble at that game. Albums like this are exactly why I love Sublime Frequencies, as Dagara is a richly immersive tour de force of constantly shifting, interwoven patterns.
Samples can be found here.