Guitar virtuoso Derek Gripper has mastered what even John Williams, one of his idols, thought was impossible: To perform pieces written for the highly complex kora – a West African harp with 21 strings – on a ordinary six-string-guitar.
The most astonishing part is how effortless it all sounds. «One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali» (2012) – the album where these kora interpretations first saw the light of day – was recorded in the lonely obscurity of a single night’s, which makes a lot sense. There’s an infectious quietude about the recording, as if the guitar is simply an extension of Gripper’s body. This energy is striking even when music is performed in front of a large audience.
The South-African composer’s artistic project – to approach African musics with an approach molded by ballast classical Western musicology – is reminiscent of the philosophy that drives avant-garde trumpeter Jon Hassel’s «fourth world» music. Like Hassel the music of Gripper never seems contrived, but rather overflows with the joy of performing.
«In Africa, when an old man dies, a library is burning» claims the South African composer’s latest solo effort, «Libraries on Fire» (2015). In that sense, Gripper is a heroic archivist: He carries forward the oral griot tradition as if it’s a matter of life and death.
Text: Kim Klev