Derek Gripper is a Cape Town based composer, arranger and virtuoso guitarist known for his groundbreaking technique for evoking the West African kora on solo guitar. His work creates an unprecedented meeting point between written and oral traditions, re-writing the language of African and Classical Guitar.
When Gripper released “One Night on Earth,” his 2012 album of kora translations, classical guitar legend John Williams said he thought it was “absolutely impossible until I heard Derek Gripper do it,” while kora maestro Toumani Diabaté asked for confirmation that it was indeed just one person playing. 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. His 2016 Carnegie Hall debut paired him with Mali’s Trio da Kali, and the UK’s Songlines honoured him with best album in Africa and the Middle East for his 2016 album “Libraries on Fire.”
Since these two recordings put kora/guitar on the map, his recent recordings “A Year of Swimming” (2020), “Billy Goes to Durban,” (2021) and “Sleep Songs for My Daughter” (2022), have incorporated elements of his kora explorations in original compositions and improvisations, captured on tape in the field and in studio.
On-stage Derek is both informative scholar and irreverent comedian, effortlessly shifting between conversation and music, reminding us that the art of the griot, even if only evoked by a non-griot, is the art of storytelling as much as it is the art of music-making.
At present Gripper is collaborating with Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko on a new duo project and recording for the record label Platoon.