It took Derek Gripper untold hours of painstaking work to transcribe note-for-note the complex compositions of Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and find a way of playing them on six-string guitar. The results appeared on his ninth album, One Night on Earth. The album created an unprecedented meeting point between the written tradition of Western classical music and the oral tradition of the West African griots.
Critical acclaim was quick to follow. Classical guitar legend John Williams said he thought it was “absolutely impossible until I heard Derek Gripper do it.” Toumani Diabaté himself asked for confirmation that it was indeed just one person playing one guitar. Both invited Derek to collaborate with them: Derek performed with Williams in London’s Shakespeare’s Globe and King’s Place, and with Diabaté and his Symmetric Orchestra at the Acoustik Festival Bamako, Mali. He also played with Trio da Kali at Carnegie Hall and won a Songlines Award for the best album in Africa and the Middle East. Derek tours regularly in the USA, Canada, Britain, Europe, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Australia, Malaysia, India and Mali.
Aside from these transcriptions Derek has created original music from his diverse influences, from Africa: Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Arvo Pärt, and Egberto Gismonti. Derek has also spent many years performing and recording his own translations of Bach’s violin and cello music, infusing his interpretations with his lessons from the oral traditions of Africa.
His works for string quartet, larger ensembles or installations have been performed/exhibited at The Venice Architecture Biennale, Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival in the UK, and used in films such as Five Fingers For Marseilles.
“Gripper has cracked it… his playing has a depthless beauty, which does full justice to the complexity of Toumani’s compositions. To do so without any hint of the music being dumbed down is a staggering achievement on solo guitar.” – Nigel Williamson, Songlines Magazine
Photo credits: Jonx Pillemer (header) and Kim Rudner (thumbnail)