Solo Acoustic Guitarist | African and Contemporary | Composer and Performer

Kai Kai (2009)

Reviews of Kai Kai

“The songs flow gently into one another, and the album, when listened to as a whole, is…mesmerising. The melodies and themes are subtle, yet evoke a range of feelings and textures…”Kai Kai” is an intriguing sample of Gripper’s musical journey and manages to be both beautifully simple and subtly layered with meaning.” [Douglas Roger for Music Industry Online]

“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 Underground

Kai Kai was recorded six months after I recorded Prayers and Dances II, Ayo and Ale!x. The pieces were written in this time between albums. The recording is a single take of 50 minutes. After the recording we listened back and edited it down to 40 minutes.

The guitar used in this recording was made by Hermann Hauser III in 2003. All of my compositions from the Ayo collection to this present one are an expression of the subtle magic of this instrument; its uncanny ability to combine disparate sounds into a unified whole. These recordings and pieces would not have been possible without the artistry of the Hausers, whose workmanship has made me really love the guitar.

The story of each piece is told in the album’s liner notes:

1. Kai Kai

One night while it was still quite cold, Kaira’s teeth were very sore. So I strapped her onto my back and we walked around and around the stone floor of the sitting room in darkness. After quite some time she was still awake, so I picked up San’s little guitar and retuned the 3rd string half a step higher. Then I played this piece for the first time: kai kai…kai kai…kai kai…kai kai…

2. 2 Guitars (red)

This is based on 2 Violões (vermelho) for two guitars from Egberto Gismonti’s Dança Dos Escravos. My version is very much simplified, with just the basic elements of the piece still heard, on only one guitar. Each statement of the theme leads to a new cycle unrelated to the original composition: where Egberto explodes from the expansive main theme into ecstatic improvisation, I implode from this same theme into condensed cycles. This inverts the energy of the piece, with the explosion coming with the theme’s return.

3. Big Brydon’s Little Room

I was driving up Red Hill, curving around the bends, and I started singing a new melody. I was surprised, as I don’t usually think of melodies away from the guitar. I went on singing it, round and round. It was some days before it dawned on me that the melody had been taught to me by my friend Brydon. We had been sitting in his little studio, surrounded by instruments and music and other equipment, and we had jammed a composition of his, with me reading the notes off his computer screen. This new version took a different turn, but the start of the melody was his. I love the way the mind works like this: it goes its own way, and when it is ready it releases something new. In this recorded version Brydon’s melody comes right at the end of the piece.

4. Frankfurt

“How are you liking Frankfurt?” everybody asked. The cold and grey of a far away place, when at home the sun is shining and children are playing in the streets. So I played this piece at the end of my stay in Frankfurt, at the launch of the vinyl project Songs for the Swans Left Behind, to a wonderful audience in a tall glass building, overlooking the river and the rain.

5. Okkie Langdraai

One night, some years ago, Alex and I were sitting outside next to a fire, with our friend Charlotte, who was visiting all the way from Sweden, and Alex played and sang a piece of his on accordion. He called it Okkie Langdraai because it told the story of the manager of the farm Sagtevlei. People called him Okkie Langdraai, because whenever he did anything he took a long turn (a long time) to do it. This piece was one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I have ever heard. It became the end section of a longer piece for strings and accordion on the album Sagtevlei. I spent the next seven years trying to persuade Alex that he had all the music he needed sitting in that accordion, and in his trumpet, that he didn’t need anything else. But Alex had other journeys to make, and continued to travel in so many directions. On the last night I saw him, two weeks before he died, while we were eating together, just before we played with Brydon what became the cd Ale!x, he said to me “I am starting to think I should just do one thing, it would probably be easier.” But Alex was never one thing. He was anything he could see, soulmate of anybody he cared to seduce. And he exploded into a fractal of other people’s love and inspiration two weeks later, on the national highway. He once said to me that he would prefer to download himself into the collective brain, if need be. Perhaps he did.

6. Oom Jan se Skorsies

Oom Jan is one of those infinitely capable and self-contained human beings. He lives on a farm called Droëland (Dry Land) in the mountains near Ceres. He has a small cottage surrounded by his vegetable garden and fruit trees, in the deserted part of the farm called Vaaldraai (dusty turn), just next to the road that leads to Ou Vloer (old floor) and beyond into the Klein Karoo. He grows squashes. He says they are so sweet ‘n mens hoofie eers suiker op te sit nie (one doesn’t even need to add sugar).

7. Tikkie is nie Meer nie

In schools across the country are little rooms where musicians pass on music to children. They sit in these rooms from dawn to dusk, playing and listening and offering advice, instruction and all the rest of it. I wish we could still sit under trees and say a word or two to the interested passer by, but the world has moved on at a great pace, and now everything has its proper place. So I came across one of these teachers, sitting in her room with the piano open and waiting. But her eyes were red with tears. She had received a call, with just a few words, from her brother, with news of her mother’s dog: “Tikkie is nie meer nie” was all he said. Tikkie is no more.

8. Die Veldskoen van Manie Kruger

My friend Oom Schalk once told me a story, about the birth of a great South African musician. A man called Manie Kruger who learnt his trade on the riempies bench in the corner of the dance floors of the bushveld. Here Manie’s fingers learnt to dance the night away on the melodious waves of the concertina. But one day Manie heard about history. And he loved the sound of it so much that he wanted to be part of it too. Now History is a big thing. It has no time for riempies benches and dance floors and the sound of voices raised in singing Vat Jou Goed en Trek, Ferreira. So, sadly, Manie became a recitalist. And left the old type of playing to others. This sad little piece tells the story of the moments before Manie’s first recital, just before he introduced the ‘great’ European tradition of the recital to the Bushveld. It tells of the expectation of the people, perched on borrowed chairs in Manie’s voorkamer (sitting room), waiting before a green curtain hanging on a string, behind which sat Manie with his concertina. Oom Schalk says he knew Manie was waiting there behind the curtain before the concert started. Oom Schalk knew this because he could see the front of Manie’s veldskoen (leather shoes), which were  visible as they stuck out, just slightly, from underneath that green curtain.

9. George

In a house in the town of George, on the garden route of the Western Cape, stands a large grandfather clock. It chimes the hours and ticks the seconds. But once a year, for many years now, its hands are stopped and it is made to be still. Quiet. Because on these days the children come to play their exams for the examiner who flies all the way from England. I heard this story and I felt sad that such a  great musician, who plays every day without fail, should be made silent on this day devoted to music. So we played together and we made this song.

10. Koortjie for the Kommetjie Whales

This is a piece I played in response to the beaching of 50-something whales in Kommetjie some months ago, and the inevitable human clash of interests and beliefs that ensued.

11. Die Akkerboom se Bas

Alex and I first performed a version of this piece at a party, as an electro trio with our friend Paul Miller. That performance became the CD Droëland (smallfunk.com). The intro melody is from a track from Hemisfär (smallfunk.com) the “clicks and cuts” Afrikaans pop album made in Sweden with Kate and Magnus. The rest is my own. The words and melody are a traditional farm song sung on Ruth, Kate and Jasmin’s mother’s farm near Ceres.

die akkerboom se bas

die akkerboom se bas

die akkerboom se bas

jy moet jou skurwe voete vas

the oak tree’s bark

the oak tree’s bark

the oak tree’s bark

you must wash your rough feet

12. Sai Goes Round and Round

My eldest daughter Sai is one of those immensely sharp individuals who knows how to ask for what she wants without actually saying it.