Solo Acoustic Guitarist | African and Contemporary | Composer and Performer


One of the most interesting things I’ve heard on guitar in twenty years” John Williams

“One of the best recent guitar albums is a solo album called One Night on Earth, by South African Derek Gripper.” Songlines Magazine.

“I’m amazed at how Derek has spent his life honing the kora and mimicking it on guitar – fascinating stuff whose by product is a record of beauty.” Cerys Matthews

“The second half featured Derek Gripper, who recently had a Top of the World album in #91. Gripper has a wonderful stage presence, completely at ease with his instrument and the audience. His repertoire ranges from JS Bach to Egberto Gismonti, but it’s the kora music he plays on his guitar that really makes him stand out – a fascination he’s had since first hearing Toumani Diabaté in 1987. Gripper created a real sense of intimacy and awareness of the sounds and silences of his instrument, sometimes softly humming along to the melody. Given that decibel levels at so many gigs can be ear-bleedingly loud, it was a real treat to hear Gripper perform completely unamplified in such a wonderful space.” [Jo Frost, Songlines UK reviews the Globe with Tunde Jegede]

“An incredible guitarist – nuances of west African music coming through…transcribed this perfectly…He’s a beautiful guitarist, I love the way he plays… so passionate about the music that it’s really infectious” Nitin Sawhney on BBC Radio 3

“Gripper has brilliantly transferred [the kora] repertoire onto a regular six string guitar. He sees [Toumani] Diabaté as the Segovia, or indeed John Williams, of the kora, championing it as a solo instrument. And Gripper brilliantly takes it back to the guitar. He’s opening a whole new repertoire of classical guitar music. [Review of concert at the London Globe Theatre, ‘John Williams and Friends’ 17.3.14 by Simon Broughton, Evening Standard 18.3.14]

“Just two days before I planned to meet with [Globe Music Director) Bill Barklay, to finalise the programmes, I received these CDs of Derek Gripper. I had never heard of him but was so knocked out by them, I immediately changed some of the plans and put him in for two dates!…he plays amazing transcriptions of kora music, mostly of the great kora player Toumani Diabaté – incredible! What he is doing in his life with educational and other projects is inspiring, and to be honest, I think it is where the guitar should be going.” [John Williams in Classical Guitar Magazine UK]

“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…Gripper’s record genuinely complements Toumani’s music, and the more resonant sonorities of the guitar give the record its own baroque attraction…Gripper’s extensive liner notes are a tour de force, too – it’s one of the most perceptive and insightful pieces ever written about the kora and the compositional qualities of Toumani’s unique music.” [Nigel Williamson, Songlines Magazine]  read full review

“…one of the most atmospheric recordings of guitar music, of any kind, that I have heard…Derek Gripper has been grappling with the almost overwhelming task of ‘transcribing’ the music of the Kora to the solo guitar. More than a labour of love, Gripper has brought a new purity to the dream-like improvisatory nature of these compositions…the music is mesmerising…the phrases never seem to repeat themselves, although they also appear to move in concentric circles whilst soaring above you in the sky….The drones and ornamentation intertwine in a rich, beguiling counterpoint. My recording of the year, so far!” [Tim Panting Classical Guitar Magazine UK]

‎”The result is astounding, not just for its technical brilliance, but its musicality. Gripper executes these pieces with the precision and attention to detail one might expect from a great classical musician…It’s hard to imagine a more impressive and passionate rendering of Malian music on classical guitar, particularly from a person who has done it all his own way.” (Banning Eyre, Afropop WorldwideRead the full review

an “extraordinary set of instrumentals…with a unique and quite astonishing guitar technique…at the same time tributes and also very intense, personal takes on the originals…there is a feeling of freedom that is liberating to listen to…he succeeds magnificently…A true synthesis and a great album.” [Ian Kearey, fRoots]

“Doing sublime justice to this music on six strings is an incredible achievement…enormously successful…this music is more about Agape than Eros. As with the excellent album, it is music that leaves you feeling a little more than human, a little better than human. [Chris Roper, Mail and GuardianRead full review

“Derek Gripper is amazing.” John Williams quoted in Songlines Magazine

“Il est des artistes qui nous surprennent. Des artistes authentiques, passionnés et passionnants. Des artistes qui choisissent de revisiter des répertoires déjà connus, déjà appréciés et dont les auteurs ne sont autres que des légendes. Des artistes qui prennent tous les risques. Certains se perdent dans ces explorations quand d’autres révolutionnent la musique. Dans cette catégorie de gens qui ont réussi à remettre au goût du jour la musique d’antan et à redonner un nouveau souffle à la musique traditionnelle, un guitariste sud-africain a su se démarquer. Derek Gripper, puisque c’est de lui qu’il s’agit, est un guitariste classique. Son univers est très éclectique. De la musique classique au jazz en passant par les sonorités africaines. Sa particularité ? Réarranger des morceaux composés, à la base, pour une Kora.” [Samy Abdelguerfi, UBU Mag, Algeria]

“For One Night on Earth, [Gripper] does not merely expose the voluminous rotundity of each quivering string, he takes the six strings traditionally allocated to Western guitar and transplants them into the world of the 21-string kora. It is an audacious operation which, in lesser hands, would prove disrespectful and, possibly, disastrous. But Gripper…is a master musician.” [Mick Raubenheimer, Rolling Stone]

“It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that there’s not a misplaced note or a misdirected emotion here, but, while every piece has clearly been carefully chosen and meticulously conceived, there’s nevertheless a wonderfully natural feel about the whole record.  Although each track is just one of a number of finely spun threads braided into extraordinarily durable rope, Gripper’s warmth, vitality and freshness of execution on the much performed Jarabi seems to represent the album’s character especially well…Anybody wondering why one would want to hear a South African guitarist play this music when the incomparable original recordings are available need only listen to the album once for the answer.” [Richard Haslop, Business Dayread full review

Cape Times tells the story here

Reviews for the Sound of Water (2012)

“an excellent album…of very interesting and arresting music. [Derek Gripper’s] South African roots are never very far away in his own works, and with a fusion of classical, jazz and Brazilian mingled together with challenging rhythms and oft-times complex melodic lines, these originals are, for this reviewer, the cream of the crop…The vocalisations by Gripper throughout most of the programme complements the hypnotic beauty of the guitar playing from this very talented musician” [Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine, UK]

One of the things that allows Gripper to stand out against the crowd of modern guitarists, are the vast array of sounds that he can draw from the instrument…Gripper is able to transcend the instrument with his performances…Gripper’s ability on the instrument…is absolutely world-class…his voice is so personal, so unique, that it leaps from the speakers and goes beyond the instrument itself.

Gripper also brings a huge amount of intensity and emotional energy to his playing. There is never a note wasted or phrase played that isn’t carefully sculpted to bring out the artist’s full emotional intent for that moment in time…Gripper’s music is full of an energy and drive that is contagious, and that will remain with the listener long after the music has faded from the speakers.

Sound of Water is a remarkable record by Gripper that showcases his extraordinary abilities as a composer, arranger and performer. With such a strong release, it is only a matter of time before Gripper becomes recognized across the globe for his contributions to modern guitar performance and composition.” [Matthew Warnock, Guitar International. Read the full article.]

South African master classical guitarist Derek Gripper’s latest album is an eclectic exploration of sound, the limits of an instrument and the boundaries of our own preconceived notions of melody and harmony…Like all great works, this album requires multiple listens to come to grips with its subtle nuances and complexities but it is a journey worth travelling.” [Dirk Meerkotter, The Big Issue Jan 2012]

“Thoroughly exploring the guitar’s remarkable melodic, harmonic and percussive capabilities, and using a compositional approach that appears to be simultaneously disciplined and free-form, Gripper creates a sound worthy of South Africa’s pluralistic musical landscape.” [Classic Feel Dec/Jan 2011]

Some Performance Reviews

“Gripper literally hypnotized the audience with his seemingly effortless adaptation of pieces performed by Toumani Diabate, Ballake Sissoko and other giants of the kora. What’s interesting from a guitarist’s point of view is that Gripper does not use any of the techniques West African guitar pickers have developed to channel the kora. He plays in keys they would not use, uses four right-hand fingers to pick–rather than two, as an African finger style player would do. He has listened deeply, and relies on a diverse bag of tricks classical guitarists have developed over the decades, adding a number of his own, including retuning his instrument for certain pieces. The result is jaw-droppingly beautiful. While President Obama publicly mulled over matters of war, Gripper delivered a sublime rendition of the Mande classic “Kaira,” or Peace. He varied the set with a few powerful and technically dazzling pieces by maverick Brazilian guitarist/composer Egberto Gismonti…This was Gripper’s first New York concert, but it certainly won’t be his last.” [Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide, reviewing DROM gig in NYC 2013 – read full review here]

“Cut back to an austere chamber lit by candles. Derek Gripper strode onstage in a blazer and plugged in. He sat with one leg folded over the other and started playing hypnotic Malian blues. For the last few years he has been transposing traditional kora compositions — a West African harp with 21 strings — onto acoustic guitar. He is classically trained and his technique is impeccable. He plays with his eyes closed, singing faint overtones while his fingers fly across the fretboard. Midway through his first song the audience was entranced.

He performed a tribute to Joni Mitchell that broke all the rules of composition but was perfect. He detuned a bass string and bent it back up, and in the ensuing silence someone in the front row gasped. Between songs he stood and bowed. When he finished the room erupted, and with a smile at the edge of his lips he returned to his seat.” Get Spiritual by Kimon de Greef read full article here.

“A unique venue such as this was perfectly suited to Derek Gripper’s technically titillating classical guitar playing, whose diverse style was infused with the musical aromas of Mali, Turkey, Brazil and India (to name a few). Unaccompanied (and almost unbelievably), he wove together fragments of unorthodox melodies and vocal incantations, maintaining an esoteric, unpredictable rhythm that left the audience wondering where in the world a song was going, both musically and geographically.

On an intriguing piece entitled “Where Is Mandela?”, Gripper began to reveal added layers to his dexterous dissertation on the instrument, so dense that it was as if two guitars were playing at the same time – one focusing on a percussive drone, another providing an urgent melody. Tales of the songs’ origins interspersed the catalogue of chords, as he passionately spoke of guitar lessons on an exquisite Turkish beach, finding inspiration in a religious sect’s music, a lament for the downfall of a 19th century Guinean ruler, and learning to play the kora (a 21-stringed harp-lute from Mali). His forays into the Malian melody-maker had resulted in an album called One Night On Earth, which was coincidentally released the last time he performed in this historically poignant venue.” A Soiree in the City read full article here

“With a full stomach and a happy heart I nestled in the long grass of the tea party stage to have my ears massaged by the perfect intricacies of Mr. Derek Gripper’s immaculate, finger-style guitar playing prowess. Most of the time he was playing 2 bass lines and 2 lead lines on the same guitar without a loop pedal. His vocals were sincere and majestic. His microphone technique was remarkably astounding. He received a standing ovation before the resonance of the last note ended. Bravo! No surprise that he’ll be sharing the stage with the legendary John Williams next March.” [Billie Thomason, Homegrown Music]  Read full article

“Performing on the Lays Stage to a full house at the recent Harare International Festival of the Arts, Gripper enthralled audiences with a repertoire that included classical, African and contemporary pieces…Gripper pretty much broke every rule of guitar playing. His fingers were all over the place, smacking the body, the fret bars and he even purposely de- tuned while he was plucking, but each motion added another layer to the musical journey…Gripper’s ability is certainly the fruit of years of dedication to his craft.” [The CitizenRead full article

“There was much anticipation for the Derek Gripper show at the Lay’s Global Stage. As the crowd filled the amphitheatre, silence followed as the Swiss Ambassador, H.E.Mr Alexander Wittwer, opened with a short speech, stressing the importance of bringing highly talented artists to HIFA.

The venue was soon engulfed by rhythmic melodies of yesteryear. Drawing his inspiration from Malian, Indian and Arabic folk music, Gripper almost like a snake charmer on the sidewalks of Mumbai or Bamako, hypnotised the audience with his incredible ability to transform the sounds of a regular guitar into the majestic kora and African bow. There was no need for the accompaniment of lyrics as the audience was instead mesmerised by his fingers and his own trance-like state, that really made this performance an incredible experience. Gripper showed the true power of music as it is offered at HIFA – the magical ability to remain in your heart and mind long after HIFA has ended.” [HIFA LUTIN, 3rd May, 2012]

Derek Gripper: Sharing music between people by Gwen Ansell writing for the Mail and Guardian

Derek Gripper might be skeptical about some commercial “world music”, but that hasn’t weakened his passionate interest in the music of the world….read the full article

Derek Gripper: Griot tradition will do Malians proud buyChris Roper writing for the Mail and Guardian

“Derek Gripper’s transcendental guitar music does sublime justice to the Griots and their remarkable instrument called the kora, writes Chris Roper….” read the full article


“Derek Gripper: Finding the New Cape” interview by Seton Hawkins (17 May 2011) for All About Jazz.

 Some Reviews of Albums Released Between 2011 and 2010

“Gripper’s music and technique break all conventional musical boundaries…His ability to strum, pluck, play the six strings on his guitar for so much more than they were ever intended is a mastery and definitely something worth seeing.” [The Zimbabwean Herald]

“considered by those in the know to be one of the most talented South African guitarists and composers.” [Cornelia Torpsch, LMG, Oct 2009]

“Kai Kai” is an inspiring album that like all good music grows on you, and becomes more enjoyable with each listen.” [Ettienne Buys, Cape Town Undergroundread full article]

“like listening to a well-travelled friend.” [Brendon Bosworth for]

read the full review here:

“an open-minded fusion of classical and indigenous.” [Julian Jonker, Art South Africa]

“…ecstatic and meditative, beautiful and challenging, a new insight into South Africa and its music.” [Namibia Economist]

“consistently fine and immediate.” [Mail and Guardian]

Ayo: “an aural and meditative landscape, which paints dramatic, and brooding pictures…pushes the boundaries of what you think local music should sound like…varied influences and meditative aural experiments in an overall tapestry of local drama and beauty which I have not heard before.” [Ettienne Buys Cape Town Underground] read

Blomdoorns “should go down as a classic of Cape music. Gripper follows in the footsteps of Steve Newman, Tony Cox, Abdullah Ibrahim and all the best painters of the Cape’s aural landscape.” [Julian Jonker]

Listening to Blomdoorns is being granted a moment of very intimate discourse, a glimpse of secret audio-emotional imagery. Fittingly the entire album follows this sincere hush of tone – the songs are simple, modest and touching, a gifted artist incorporating his multiplicity of influences into the spotlit dialect, distilling all into the fitting frame of a single acoustic guitar…a meditation coloured by interweaving tales and recollections, emotions…A beauty of understatement, ‘Blomdoorns’ is a soundtrack for all lovers of jazz, folk, acoustic guitar and scenic afternoons. [Mick Raubenheimer, SA Rock Digest] read full article

Sagtevlei “a fragile, seductive recording that captures the conviction that one would ask of a contemporary classical music born out of the South African landscape. The collaboration captures the timelessness of vastrap and goema liedjies in arrangements for string quartet, trumpet, voice and accordion.” [Julian Jonker, Mail and Guardian]