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Vula Viel (vʊ’la vi:’ɛl) means Good is Good in Dagaare, the language of the tribe in Upper West Ghana where Bex Burch lived, farmed and studied for three years. Now it is the name of her group featuring the best of London’s young music talent: Dan Nicholls (bass synth/keys), George Crowley (sax), and two drummers Simon Roth and Dave De Rose. Their intensely rhythmic music is an engaging mix of African, electronica and minimalist influences. Based around the Gyil (the Dagaare xylophone made of sacred lliga wood) Vula Viel brings the powerful ancient Dagaare music into the 21st century and the resulting music will engage, entrance and excite your soul. Good is Good is their debut album and they sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

Bex Burch started drumming aged three (in the church choir) and then at seven a chance encounter with a Djembe player inspired her to study percussion. Attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she played in classical groups was introduced to Steve Reich’s riff-based minimalism. Intrigued by the Ghanaian influence on Reich’s music, another chance encounter, with Guildhall orchestral porter, Bill Bannerman, who led to a new friendship and an invitation to visit his family in Ghana’s capital Accra. Inspired by the music and culture she took a gap year, travelling to each of the ten regions studying their music traditions. There she first met Thomas Segkura master xylophonist and the Gyil, the master xylophone of the Dagaare tribe.

Segkura invited Burch to be his apprentice: a traditional role in gyilli culture of instrumentmaking rather than playing, as playing is not taught, but just happens. She lived in Ghana for three years, completed her apprenticeship, bought land, built a house, worked as a xylophone maker (making her own instrument) and farmed land for food. She picked up some Dagaare, and absorbed the gyil music itself, eventually playing at funerals - the main arena for the gyil music making. On passing out of the apprenticeship, she was given the name Vula Viel, meaning Good is Good along with the advice: “All we have given you is yours, and all you have given us is ours. The good you do remains when you die. 

Following Segkura's sad passing in 2010, Burch transitioned from apprentice to a teacher herself. Eventually moving back to her home country, she formed Vula Viel. Rehearsing for 18 months before their first gig, the members brought a focus and respect of Burch’s vision to the music and a shared humility to expressing the Dagaare harmony. Burch wanted to share the power of the rhythms and harmonies she had been effected by in Dagaare, Ghana. And through their own efforts the band members now have an ownership of this music which has transpired culture. This music has travelled through centuries of Dagaare tradition, according to tradition first given to the people by fairies, the beings of the spirit world. Each gyilli player hears a music which moves them at a funeral, goes home and works out the song, maybe adds different bass notes, makes it their own. It is this mixture of tradition and openness that makes the music of Vula Viel so vital, as Burch mixes her traditional Dagaare training, the diverse influences of living in and making music in London and all her influences as a “Yorkshire woman Dagaare Gyil” player to create something new and vital something that celebrates Dagaare culture while also re-inventing it as Burch and the band make the music their own. Indeed in the hands of Vula Viel, Good is very Good indeed!


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