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Biakuye
Music rooted in American Innovation and African Tradition

wooden keys suspended over gourds and spider webs…
rosewood bars connected to electric pick-ups…
seed pods spun like a yo-yo…
metal bars, flattened tire spokes, a contoured red box…
goat-skin drums and electric bass…

These are the sources of Biakuye’s captivating sound—a sound that is both deeply grounded and cutting-edge. The resulting music reflects the unique journeys of its four members, which have taken the group’s West African born artists to the United States and taken its American born artists to Ghana, Uganda, Trinidad, and Cuba. Together, Biakuye’s performances, recordings, and educational events celebrate the common musical spirit of Africa and America.

Biakuye


In Akan languages of West Africa, the word Biakuye means unity. While rooted in the African traditions from which the group takes its name, Biakuye directly combines these traditions in innovative ways with American musical concepts.  The group’s American members, Mark Stone and Roger Braun, trained in contemporary percussion through U.S. universities and have extensively studied the music of West and East Africa, the Caribbean, and Brazil. In addition to many North American venues, they have performed at festivals in Ghana and Cuba, Trinidad’s carnival, and village ceremonies in Uganda.  The group’s other members, Kofi Ameyaw and Issa Sall, are from West Africa (Ghana and Senegal) and are steeped in the musical traditions of their home countries, but as recently naturalized U.S. citizens have become fluent in the music of the Americas.  In addition to many West African venues, they have performed at major concert venues throughout North America including Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center.

Although their musical, cultural, and religious backgrounds are quite different, the members of Biakuye are strongly united through music. Initially, Biakuye performed music from separate African and American traditions, but over the years the boundaries between these musical styles faded. The group’s repertoire now consists of contemporary African music incorporating jazz improvisation, creative arrangements of traditional repertoire, and original compositions reflective of the members’ diverse backgrounds.

Biakuye’s instrumentation reflects the many connections between American and African music. Melodically, the western marimba and vibraphone combine with the gyil, the xylophone of northern Ghana, and kalimbas from Uganda.  These instruments all relate back to xylophones traditions found throughout Africa.  Marimba is in fact an African word and kalimba is a variation of that word.  On the non-melodic side, Biakuye employs the congas of Cuba, the djembe of West Africa, and the drum set of the United States.

Biakuye’s debut CD, on the Jumbie Records Label, is the culmination of many years of collaboration between the group’s members.  Mark Stone, an expert performer of global melodic percussion, first met, the virtuoso percussionist, Roger Braun at Interlochen in 1988 and they later attended the University of Michigan together.  While at U of M, Mark traveled for a year to Ghana, where he met, master drummer, Kofi Ameyaw.  Upon returning from Ghana, Mark formed Biakuye with Roger and later Kofi.  In 2000, the dynamic bass player, Issa Sall, brought his impeccable bass grooves to the group. Together, Biakuye has actively spread its message of unity through energetic performances at numerous festivals, art institutes, universities, and schools. Highlights include performances on multiple Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert series, the African Xylophone Festival in New York City, and the Sacheon and Pyeongtaek Percussion Festivals in South Korea. 

 

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