Bernard Woma (1966-2018) was from the Gbannε clan of the Dagara people. He was born on December 18, 1966 in the village of Hiineteng, in the Upper West Region. His father noticed that, as a newborn, Bernard’s hands were clenched in fists, as if he was clutching xylophone mallets, a sign that he was destined to become a Gyil player. Consequently, Bernard began playing the gyil when he was two years old and became known for his musical abilities throughout the Upper West Region as he grew older.
In 1982, Bernard moved to the capital city of Accra and began to play the gyil for the Dagara community in the city. Soon after, in 1989, he was offered the position of solo xylophonist for Ghana’s National Dance Company at the National Theatre of Ghana. In 1992 he was also appointed as the Master Drummer of the company and held the honorable position as the ceremonial Atumpan Drummer for Ghanaian State functions for the rest of his life.
In 1997, Bernard founded and became Artistic Director of Saakumu Dance Troupe of Ghana. He went on to establish the Dagara Music Center (DMC) in 1999 so that he could train and teach Ghanaian and foreign students the diverse forms of traditional music, dance, and arts from around the country in order to preserve them and promote their embedded values. Bernard’s leadership and vision created a friendly and collegial learning environment that attracted people from around the world to come study and learn from him.
As a newborn, Bernard’s hands were clenched in fists as if he was clutching xylophone mallets, a sign that he was destined to become a Gyil player.
At the invitation of Dr. Kay Stonefelt, Bernard was invited to become a guest lecturer at the State University of New York at Fredonia in 1999. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with minors in History and Arts Administration from the State University of New York at Fredonia, (May 2008), and two Masters degrees in African Studies and Folklore & Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (2012 and 2015). During the twenty years that he spent in the United States, Bernard held residencies and adjunct faculty and guest artist positions in many universities and colleges. He also presented many scholarly papers and lecture demonstrations at international conferences. His scholarship became part of a deeply engaged educational praxis when, in 2008, he brought the Saakumu Dance Troupe to the US for what would become an annual international tour.
As a performer, Bernard shared the stage with renowned artists such as Maya Angelou, Yo Yo Ma, and Glen Velez. He performed for international dignitaries and presidents such as U. S. president Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2009, he served as the cultural resource person for President Barack Obama’s family when they visited Ghana. He also was a co-founder of Jumbie Records, and founder of the New York’s AXF: African Xylophone Festival.
As a performer, Bernard shared the stage with renowned artists such as Maya Angelou, Yo Yo Ma, and Glen Velez. He performed for international dignitaries and presidents such as U. S. president Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II.
On April 27, 2018, Bernard passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. During his life, Bernard touched thousands of people through his music, teaching, and compassion for others. His legacy will live on in all those who were fortunate to learn from him and observe his passion for the gyil, traditional Ghanaian music, and his overall love of life. All of us at the DMC are committed to ensuring that we honor Bernard’s memory by continuing his work and providing opportunities for more people to learn about themselves, Ghana, and the world through music.