Gina Ferrera and The Philadelphia Gyil Fusion Project

by Gina Ferrera and The Philadelphia Gyil Fusion Project



Philadelphia is a long way from Ghana, and certainly not the first place you’d look for an artist whose specialty is the gyil—pronounced jeel—an acoustic, wooden mallet instrument in the xylophone family that originated in the West African tri-border region of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Cote D’Ivoire.

But Philadelphia is where Gina Ferrera currently resides and where she recorded her latest album, appropriately titled Gina Ferrera & The Philadelphia Gyil Fusion Project. Breathtaking in its sonic range and richly evocative in content, the recording seamlessly bridges the ancient and the contemporary, unfolding a world of contrasts and textures that reveals multiple new layers with each listening.

Just how did an Italian-American woman originally from New Jersey find her way to this relatively obscure instrument, even spending considerable time in Africa studying with the masters? The story begins at age 10. Gina’s mother, a hard-working Italian immigrant, inspired her daughter’s enthusiasm for culture, while her father, who passed away when Gina was 17, guided her toward drumming.

When she was 20, Ferrera’s seeking spirit led her to the gyil via Valerie Naranjo, a master percussionist. Naranjo mentored Ferrera for many years, during which time Gina immersed herself in the instrument’s cultural significance as well as its artistic properties. She traveled to Ghana for the first of two times, where she studied with gyil masters Kakraba Lobi and Bernard Woma. Ferrera has also absorbed the music of Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil and Zimbabwe, and her other instruments include bata drums, drum-set, shekere, conga, Ewe drums and Shona Dzavadzimu mbira.

In 2006, Ferrera relocated to Philadelphia to avail herself of the city’s bustling underground world music community. The Philadelphia Gyil Fusion Project came about organically. The 10 songs collected on the album are markedly diverse. Each is a sonic journey, replete with personal and spiritual meanings, specific themes, hidden sound textures, and laced with experimental recording effects and downbeat tempos. Ferrera also draws from the visual arts to create sonic landscapes, from color, textures, qualities of spice and flavors in sound.

Several songs on the album are inspired by traditional music, with lyrics and vocals provided by Ferrera, then transposed into modernity with the use of today’s state-of-the-art recording tools. In addition to Ferrera’s own vocals, a number of guest singers and musicians are featured on the album. A Gina Ferrera gig might include the artist performing solo or accompanied by experimental players, percussionists and vocalists, using live electronics and effects or a full band consisting of drums, guitars, bass, horns and a battery of percussion.

Gina Ferrera & the Philadelphia Gyil Fusion Project is a stimulating experience that crosses the spiritual with the sensual and the pure essence of sound. It’s at once a highly intimate statement yet one that crashes through boundaries and speaks to everyone whose path it crosses.

“Each song on this album is like its own creature that I helped transfer from another dimension to an audio dimension,” says Ferrera. “I hope that it speaks for itself.” It not only speaks for itself—it speaks for and to an entire planet, and for the eons.
- Jeff Tamarkin (former editor of Jazz Times and Global Rhythm)

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released January 25, 2010



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Track Name: In and Out
" In and Out"
Lyrics by Gina Ferrera. Music inspired by Bagr Bine (traditional Dagara/Lobi work/harvest music), vocals sessions with Ryat and middle eastern instrumentation.
Ryat (christina)- lead vocals
Gina Ferrera- gyil, vocals, electronic drums, percussion, synthesizers, effects, lyrics
Jake Morelli- guitar
Pete McRae- bass
Brian Nadav- oud
Bill Phipps- riqq, dumbek

I wish it was a straight clear road 'cause I find myself treading trails made by ghosts.
Our space was small, not enough for you and me.
Irony, an awakening, seem to be choking me.
As skeptical and cynical and tarnished I may seem.
I'll exocise the pain, this taste of bitter and beauty.
Oh this wind, always shifting,
In and out, of what we've found.
In and out, of what...we've lost.

The road gets dark and the paths do diverge.
The instinct keeps the vampires away from me.
Protection, garlic and sage, a gold shield.
Heal this shattered heart, awaken to what's real.
Falling free, falling free, falling free, falling free...
Put one foot in front of me.

Oh, this wind, always blowing and shifting,
In and out, always shifting.
In and out, I know what I need.
In and out, I find I know what I need.
I'm just trying to fall so free.
Put one foot in front of me.
Track Name: Curls
Venissa Santí- lead vocals, akpwon, improvised live vocal melody
Gina Ferrera- lyrics, gyil, vocals, shekere, electronic percussion, palitos, clave, electro-effects
Chuckie Joseph- congas
Jason Fraticelli- upright electric bass
Dave Manley- guitar
Elizabeth Sayre- batá drums: Iyá, Itótele, Okónkolo, shekere, palitos
Adam Hershberger- trumpet

Your curls and mine are tangled up in virtuosity.
It's one night in another country.
Fluidity is easy. A heavy flow has come over me.
The time's in line, your eyes on mine, I can see.
My eyes wander up the rings.
Following the springs of your circular shaped antennae.
Your curls, the rain, humidity and this pulse.

Your curls and mine tangled up in virtuosity.
One night in another country.
We watch the shadows of our forms as the time aligns, your eyes on mine,
I can see.

Electric colors when I blink my eyes.
My brain is upright for curiosity.
Fluidity is easy and I'll breathe in the scent of your chemistry.
Brain's upright for curiosity.
A surreal story to reveal,
that we can paint or believe if it's what we feel.
What is it you feel?
Well, realize it and create it.
A heavy flow coming over me.

Illuminate my ear with just your whisper, illuminate my ear.
With just your whisper,
Light it up with just a whisper.
Sensation created by the springs we twirl around each kinking curl.
Sensation created by the strings we curl around each kinky curl.
It's chemistry, spiraling.
Not far fetch from here?
All the particles you are, with the particles of me.
Chemistry, spiraling.
Not far fetch, you hear?
All the particles of you with the particles of me.
We could be anywhere in this moment frozen.
To be frozen in this moment, just you and me.
Frozen in this moment just you and me.
The particles of you with the particles of me,
We could be anywhere.
In this moment you and me.

Batá drum arrangement by Elizabeth Sayre- of praise songs for Ochún y Changó, (traditional Lukumi).
Lead voice (Akpwon)- Venissa Santi
Coro (chorus)- Gina Ferrera, Okomfo Adwoa Tacheampong, Shawn Hennessey, Elizabeth Sayre

Ochún - is the Orisha of fresh water, of rivers and creeks. She is the deity of female sexuality, of love, eroticism and sensuality, of gold and luxury, beauty and vanity. She affects the belly and makes a woman conceive. She is the "Sweet Honeydripper", mistress of seduction and protective as she can "cure all evil just with her water".
Changó - is the oricha of fire and thunder, of virility and male sexuality. He represents joy of life. He is the owner of the drums, particularly the bata. He is likely to get furious over hypocrisy and cowardly behavior. He is a politician and a strategist. As the archetypical hero, he is known for his love of music, dance and party.
Track Name: Carry Me
"Carry Me"
Lyrics by Gina Ferrera. Music inspired by Njari Ne Makonde, (traditional Shona mbira) and traditional Lukumi batá drum rhythms.
Ryat – vocals, opera
Pete McRae- guitar
Gina Ferrera- mbira, electronic drums, percussion, vocals
Adam Hershberger- trumpet
Elizabeth Sayre- batá drums: Iyá, Itótele, Okónkolo

My fingers feel a bit stiff,
Lullaby I'm like a child.
They twinkle tones and stir the old bones.
From behind the waterfall.
Thumbs that trace the lights that expose the voices.
This message is encoded.
It echoes and appears to rain a silver sprinkle,
and awake the rhythms of mystery.
Carry Me, Oh, carry me.

Drink the brew with dear open palms
Coconut and buttermilk.
I'm like a pilgrim and I have come, entranced by a scent.
Stretching to take the new breathe,
I'll dance around your tree.
Filter this spring clean,
And blow the dust away.
Tapping in to a new key hole.
Of polyphonic energy.
This song sits tucked just behind my ears.
Carry Me, oh, carry me!

Hammer down the metal,
clinky dream, rattling.
Melt in, link sync, locked with, everything.
My focus recreates itself,
Timeless suspension.
I'm here, it's right now, with you again,
With you...
Carry Me, oh, please carry me!
Track Name: Whirlwind
Lyrics by Gina Ferrera. Quotes taken from Buddhist literature ("Impermanance"- Sogyal Rinpoche).
Samba arrangements by Gina Ferrera & Elizabeth Sayre. Freestyle lyrics improvised by Eric Hickey.
Eric Hickey- Freestyle vocals
Collin Mil- child’s voice- reciting nursery rhyme, “Five little pumpkins” & “I am special…”
Gina Ferrera- gyil, electronic drums, percussion, vocals
Dave Manely- guitar
Pete McRae- bass
Elizabeth Sayre- electronic samba percussion, agogo (double bell), tamborim, repinique (tenor drum), ganza (shaker)
Xande Cruz- caixa (snare drum), surdo (bass drum), apito (samba whistle)
Abaraham ”Cito” Caravallo Candell- voice

Nursery rhyme:
"Five little pumpkins, sitting on a gate.
Oh my, it's getting late.
There's witches in the air.
But we don't care.
Let's run and have some fun.
Oooh, went the wind.
Out went the light.
Boo! Fell out of sight."

"Freestyle lyrics"- Eric Hickey

Song Lyrics:
I'm trying to understand these patterns I keep getting caught up in.
A whirlwind around and around.
But I'm here unfolding again.
I know exactly why you're trying to stay.
Then you keep causing me pain.
I let you in because you're welcome to come here and play.

Inside I know why I go through the madness.
When I'm charmed away every time.
And I could care less about what.
Happens tomorrow because I believe you tonight.

I see you for potential and there is
Beauty about you I'd like to explore.
But this whirlwind we're caught up in.
I don't think I can take anymore.

What is born, will die.
What is accumulated, will be exhausted.
What has been high, will be brought low.
The only thing we really have is now.

A choice for temptation and you're.
Sleeping beside me and I know why.
This faze won't last long now.
But kisses will keep our doubts away tonight.

Inside I know why I go through the madness.
I'm charmed away every time.
I can care less about what happens tomorrow.
Because I believe you tonight.

On again and off again, to find out.
I know exactly what I don't want around.
So enjoy tonight because tomorrow.
This whirlwind will spin and spit us out.

I'm starting to see this.
Pattern unfolding when I'm charmed away every time.
Gather disperse, build up, collapse and
know all things to be like:
A mirage, a cloud castle, an apparition.
without essence but with
qualities that can be seen.
Nothing is ever as it appears.

"I am special, Yes I am
there is no one like me
I'm unique".

As the moon in a bright sky,
In some clear lake, reflected.
Yet, to that lake the moon has never moved.
An echo that derives from music, sound and weeping.
Yet in that echo, is no melody.
Nothing is ever as it appears.
Track Name: Bewaa
"Bewaa" (you come)
(Traditional) Arrangement by Gina Ferrera. Ewe drum ensemble arranged by Dan Gorlin. “Bewaa” is recreational music- that literally translates to "you come." Bewaa music is played at social events where the community comes together, (harvest festivals, marriage ceremonies, and naming ceremonies). Bewaa is also commonly played at pito bars where family and friends gather together to share in the local brew (pito), song, and dance. Creative liberty was taken with this version of Bewaa as it features an Ewe drum ensemble, tabla drums, electronic beats and American blues influences.
Dan Gorlin- Eue drums: kloboto, kidi, Kagahu, gahkogui (bell), axatse (shaker)
Pete McRae- effect guitar, finger-style electric guitar
Gina Ferrera- gyil, electronic drums, percussion, vocals, axatse (shaker), effects
Radha- tabla drums
Geoff Thompson- harmonica
Dave Manley- guitar
Shawn Hennessey- vocals
Okomfo Adwoa Tacheampong- vocals
Kwesi Opare- vocals
Track Name: Inner Evolution
"Inner Evolution"
Music & Lyrics by Gina Ferrera & Shawn Hennessey.
Shawn Hennessey- guitars, vocals, caxixi, gome drum, djembe, brushes
Gina Ferrera- gyil, vocals, percussion, shakers, cymbals
Erik Lawrence- wood flute

I wake up,
Dash out of the womb, my bed.
I've grown deeper roots.
House keys, right tire.
Flat, late.
Work, bills.
The summer taste on your mouth.
The kitchen wall is falling,
The errand list keeps growing.
And money doesn't fall.
But for the exchange we fall.
Riding through the city on my bike I find myself,
Looking around at all the people and they seem...

Lost in these nickels and the crimes.
My child's eyes are,
confused by what we chose to do.
Now I'll sing about it...

A resolution for a revolution is a contribution.
Money like leaves are falling like trees for a mansion on the ocean.
Driving blind to the solution, on the highway of erosion.
We sacrifice the stars to find an inner evolution.

Democracy has lost all its credibility.
People are sleep walking on the streets.
All I want is to see clear reality.
If you can communicate righteousness to me than I'm ready to wake up, wake up!

A resolution for a revolution is a contribution.
Money like leaves are falling like trees for a mansion on the ocean.
Driving blind to the solution, on the highway of erosion.
We sacrifice the stars to find an inner evolution.
Track Name: Organic Spinning Sphere
"Organic Spinning Sphere"
Inspired by traditional Sissala gyil music. Lyrics by Gina Ferrera and Abraham “Cito” Caravallo Candell. Freestyle lyrics improvised by Eric Hickey.
Matt Davis- guitar
Jason Fraticelli- upright bass
Gina Ferrera- gyil, vocals, electronic drums, bell, percussion, effects
Adam Hershberger- trumpet
Erik Lawrence- curved soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Eric Hickey- freestyle vocals

Cataclysmic pole shift and I walk through all time.
There's no time on this organic spinning sphere.
And now the rock formed fossil of ancient time.
The human blue print left footprints.

Continental plate drift over hot magma planes
With a belly full of babies.
A beauty bearing fruit.
She's sailing the cosmic sea.
Birth and nourish us, traveling passengers.
Flipping, pole shifting.

She used to play her drums with,
starlight and flower breathe.
He tried to take it all away.
We're aware of the pagan ways.
I'm not getting caught up in that illusion game.
He tried to strip her beauty away.
He tried to burn her to a stake.
He thinks she still serves as a slave.
Can his power really take it all away?

Melt down, break down,
Sentenced and accused as a witch.
Yet he worships the goddess.
He is the goddess and the god.
There is no duality,
If there is "the one"
and only "the one"

Melt down, break down!
Melt down, break down!
Out of control
Organic spinning sphere
Micro of the massive
Chaos spinning sphere.
On her way to see her seven sisters.
Chaos spinning sphere.
Burning to fizz out.
One quick shiver to melt down.
Melt down, break down!
Track Name: Mbiragyil
Jennifer Kyker- vocals, mbira, hosho
Gina Ferrera- gyil, vocals

"Chamutenguere"- Social music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe dating back to the 1800's. Is an expression of the social dynamics of colonialism, which translates roughly, "of the wagon wheels". The "two wheels of the wagon", this new form of transportation. Stretch your foot out and let me extract the thorn. The doctor has been stabbed.

"Dome yang mhaa" (your enemy is happy)- is played in Lobi/Dagara from Northern Ghana. It is custom for gyil players during funerals to announce the death and to honor a man of leadership age. The song is a social warning, that your enemy could be among you. Your enemy could be someone in your own house".
Track Name: Somewhere, Someway, Someday, Somehow
"Somewhere, Someway, Someday, Somehow"
Music & lyrics by Gina Ferrera. This song features the marimba with its ancestor, the gyil. It is in recognition of all the guidance and advice that was offered to me over the years from mentors and teachers.
Shara Dae- lead vocals
Gina Ferrera- gyil, vocals, electronic beats, shakers, cymbals, percussion
Ashley “Deekus” Tini- marimba
Joshua Winer- bass guitar
Radha - tabla drums

I've been skipping along like A to C,
By skipping B.
He told me " the direction that you are going".
And somehow already I've found my path.
And I'm not going to leave it now.
Someday it all might get easier or maybe not.
But if I,
"Don't get swayed, there's only so many days.
Don't get swayed there's so many ways".
Somewhere, Someway, someday, somehow.

Someone told me you can't be hard on yourself all the time.
Well I might be lacking the right amount of patience
but it seems I can't move fast enough.
Run in the direction you are going.
I found my path,
"Don't get swayed there's only so many days.
Don't get swayed there's so many ways.
Somewhere, Someway, Someday, Somehow
Been trying to keep up with the world and keep on.
Track Name: Birifor Night
"Birifor Night"
Traditional gyil Arrangement of Pire Music- (Lobi/Dagara).
Erik Lawrence- curved soprano saxophone
Gina Ferrera- gyil, percussion

-This live interview features the voice of Tampura Dansora, translated by Okutu Moses. The interview was recorded in Tinson Yiiri, a Birifor Village in northern Ghana, July 2005. I was among about 8 villagers all squatting under a tree in the night. I was passing the microphone around in translation, asking Tampura to share information about the gyil music tradition. At the end of the song, Tampura teaches me how to say “Liiri” (the Birifor word for the wood used to make gyil) and “Birifor” (the name of the people and language they speak in that village). Erik and I recorded the music in Philadelphia.