The title of this piece and that of the CD itself is borrowed from my son Ayo. The piece is called Ayo because it had a directness and a strength, but also because it was a piece that was just starting. Ayo was born in 2006 at our home. He got a little stuck on the way out, with just his head out – his shoulders were massive – but our midwife acted quickly and got Ruth to lie on the bed. Out he came: 5.47 kilograms. A year or so later he had mastered the word, “nts” and a few months after that graduated to “yippah.” This song comes from the “yippah” stage and uses it as the vocal lyric.
When I recorded this CD I was still somewhat stuck between the idea of classical music and “other” music, a self-created duality that evaporated when I lost my friend Alex. In some ways the Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti represented “other” guitar music for me. Classical guitarists are so concerned with getting everything clean and correct…I must admit that I searched long and hard for many years, and found very few classical players that I could actually listen to. Gismonti was such a relief! He played like he was on fire.
Spore is an extract from Spore by die Bek van ‘n Ystervarkgat by Alex van Heerden and myself, a work for trumpet, voice, accordion, guitar and string quartet. This piece was first played at the Grahamstown Festival’s New Music Indaba with The Sontonga Quartet. The name comes from a picture on the last page of Die Sterre Se ‘Tsau’ a collection of Xam poetry compiled by South African writer and poet Antjie Krog. This page has a picture, merely suggested by lines of ink, of the prints of a porcupine leading into his hole: footprints at the mouth of a porcupine’s hole. The word ystervark translates literally as “iron pig.”
Alex and I are married to sisters. Their mother, Carol Ehrhardt, was a magic woman of superhuman powers who soared across the South African countryside trying her best to be of use. And she was. On one of her journeys a truckload of canned pilchards called “Lucky Star” came crashing down on her car, sending her, her young daughter Gypsy, and Gypsy’s father Hendrik on to other things. I first played this piece in a park, an equally magic place of blooming trees and leaves of gold. Then Alex and I played this piece in a dusty farm warehouse, amplified by a generator with an audience of hundreds of people who had driven to the funeral on the long dirt road, a line of cars stretched out to meet the horizon. The three travelers lay nearby, and soon after were buried on the farm, on the field where Gypsy’s life had begun. Just over a year later Alex followed. I played the piece once more, sitting in another dark and smokey warehouse, this time waiting for his body to travel upwards as smoke.
The word Bachcan mean “stream,” flowing, river, movement. There are no square edges. I sometimes tell a story about Bach, that he was actually one of the first Vastrap composers, that he wrote the Six Solo in the South African Karoo, with a porcupine quill. So many people have so many ideas about Bach, so I don’t see why I can’t have this one. Vastrap is a music which takes something from another culture and changes it; into a vastrap. Of course we think of it as a rhythm and a dance, but it is also an ethos, this taking and transforming. And, amidst all the contemporary “historical” performance practice, I think it is important to remember that this was a process that Bach himself was busy with. He took folk dances from all over Europe and rendered them anew, in his own language. In South Africa this process is called Vastrap.
The piece called Rooibok is actually four pieces. The first was going to be called Vihuela, the name of a beautiful little instrument, like a miniature twelve string guitar, which is as much history as myth. It did exist, some five hundred years ago, but somehow very few survived, so nobody knows exactly what it looked like or how it sounded. But a handful of Spanish Renaissance composers left beautifully transcribed pieces, essays in what to do with some strings, tied very tightly, over a box.
The next section is simply one of the string parts from the piece Dragon en Hugo Kry Lekker from Sagtevlei. Alex and I were sitting on the porch of the farmhouse on Sagtevlei, outside a town called Tulbagh. We wanted to make a piece that celebrated the Kaapse Klopse, the musicians who parade the streets of Cape Town every year on tweede nuwe jaar (the second of new year), playing saxophones, banjos, drums and trumpets to the powerful beat of Goema. Alex gave me the melody and I provided a way to develop the melody. Then the piece was finished.
The third section is Rooibok itself, a description of a little street in a little town next to the sea, not far from the point of Cape Town, where two oceans crash into one another.
The last section of the piece is the guitar part from Sissie my Kind Kom Huistoe. When Alex came round to my house to write Spore by die Bek van ‘n Ystervarkgat, he sang the farm song Sissie my Kind (Sissie my Child) over a guitar cycle I had recently made. The melody fit without changing anything. This was one of the last songs we performed together with Brydon Bolton, years later, on the recording now called Ale!x.
Sissie my kind kom huistoe
Ag nee my ma, ek dans nou
Wat het jy die hele aand gemaak
Ag my ma, Ystervark gejag
Sissie my child, come home
Oh no my mother, I am dancing
What did you do the whole night
Oh my mother, I hunted porcupine
Kaira is the name of the Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté’s first solo CD. It took me quite some years to attempt to answer Toumani on the guitar, on only six strings, where he had twenty-one. The kora is a harp, made from a large calabash, a skin and a long neck. It is one of the world’s greatly magical instruments.
Uhadi Rain travelled without a name until I met Phillip Nangle, an instrument builder. painter and and musician (uhadi bow, mbira, timbila, marimba, mouthbow, segankure), who lives on the farm down the hill from us. The uhadi is a hunters bow, with a gourd resonator. The string of the bow is hit with a stick, and the resulting harmonics are controlled by changing the distance between the players body and the opening of the gourd.
This is an old piece. One fo the oldest in this collection. Holland Road is in Muizenberg where our first daughter was born. When we left it felt like an empty shell.
Gary Dances Quietly
One night my friend Gary wrote to me about how he felt about my music. His words made me feel like playing again, so I made this piece.
The segankure is a bow played with another bow, the latter being a short bow strung with the tail hair of a buffalo. I have only heard the segankure played by Phillip. He bows the big bow with the little one, moving in small circles. Then his other hand dances beneath the big bow’s string, bouncing harmonics up and down.
“Toru” is the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, a true master of raw sound, who wrote music for all instruments, including the guitar. The tuning of this piece is the same as the piece Equinox by Takemitsu. “Blood” is a reference to a piece by Gavin Bryars, where he creates a cycle from a recording of an old man singing Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
This recording was made at Milestone Studios by Murray Anderson on the 17th of December, 2008. We started at ten in the morning with the Ayo collection, first playing them in a single take, then listening back and doing the edits. Then, after lunch I played the Second Sonata and the Second Partita from Bach’s Six Solo for solo violin. Then we listened back to these and edited them (a lot more than we had with Ayo). We mastered them together on another day. The mic placement, mix and mastering is exactly the same for both CDs.
Murray used two Coles 4038 ribbon mics with two Neumann condensers just behind. He had four other mics hanging from the roof which is seven meters up. This gives the recording’s reverb. So there is absolutely no artificial reverb on this recording. The guitar is a Hermann Hauser III Special Edition made in 2003 in Germany.
The recording of Ayo was funded by Steen and Stella Rothenberger for the charity organisation Pferfferminzgreen. The recording was sent to Germany and made into a double vinyl record set called Songs For the Swans Left Behind. This edition was launched at Mainkai 4 in Frankfurt, with a concert, as part of a greater event. All of the proceeds went to the CPMT Relief Project in Ethiopia.
Many thanks to Steen and Stella: without you this recording would have had to happen some other time, and would have sounded quite different.
All compositions by Derek Gripper except Largo which is by J.S.Bach (arranged for solo guitar by Derek Gripper) and Rooibok which quotes a melody by Alex van Heerden.