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Canberra Today 20°/23° | Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Engaging guitarist, one for the musically curious

Guitarist Derek Gripper. Photo: Simon Attwell

Music / Music from the Strings of Mali, Derek Gripper. At James O Fairfax Theatre, NGA, February 5-6. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

Derek Gripper is a South African guitarist who presented an intriguing and engaging concert that seamlessly blended JS Bach and the music of Mali.

Gripper has received much acclaim in recent years for his performances of West African kora music that he has transcribed for the classical guitar. 

The kora is a 21-string harp strung with nylon fishing line in two banks of strings, with bass lines played by the thumbs and the melodic lines by the forefingers of each hand. 

This gives the kora a distinctive sound, with skilled players often employing a rippling effect with a rapid flurry of notes as an ornamentation. Gripper has very cleverly adapted this technique to the guitar with excellent results.

His technique is not that of the usual classical guitarist. The guitar sits on his right hip with his legs crossed, with his right hand more in the style of a fingerpicking steel-string guitarist. 

He uses a capo more often than not and happily retunes strings in the middle of a piece. In some ways the concert is more an illustrated lecture around his music life, with the music introduced by way of stories enlivened by a dry sense of humour. It all worked together rather delightfully.

The music played was a mix of his transcriptions of West African kora and guitar music, learnt from the playing of legends such as Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure, his own compositions, which are often strongly influenced by West African music, along with a couple of movements from (I think) the cello suites of JS Bach. 

These were highly ornamented, but still with the core of the Bach melodic lines and were followed by a piece with a strong blues influence that recalled the work of Scottish guitarist Bert Yanch.

Gripper has another concert at the NGA tonight and is especially recommended for the fans of guitar music as well as the musically curious.

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