Solo Acoustic Guitarist | African and Contemporary | Composer and Performer

Performance Reviews

“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]

“The five stars apply equally to the music, the musicians and the venue…Derek Gripper, from South Africa, bringing African guitar into the classical mainstream….He sees 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.” Simon Broughton, Evening Standard

“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 gig in NYC 2013 - read full review here]

“Local guitarist Derek Gripper took to the acoustic stage and, with his relaxed and composed demeanour, dazzled his listeners with his immense skill and emotional depth. Using each note thoughtfully, Gripper created the effect of a Kora (a 21 string African harp-lute) on his guitar as he interpreted traditional Mali folk songs. His fingers danced along the fret board while conjuring up images of nature and vast open spaces. At one point during the performance, the heavens opened and the rain came tipping down onto the tent in a rhythmic pattern that seemed to sync with Gripper’s playing, as if he and Mother Nature were engaging in a spiritual conversation.” Cape Town World Music Festival reviewed by Whats On In Cape Town

“Derek took the stage with a remarkable display of African music, usually played on traditional African instruments, but here skilfully arranged for the guitar. Derek’s passionate playing and varied repertoire held the audience spellbound for the remainder of the evening.” Chester Guitar Society, UK 

“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

“[Gripper] mesmerised his sell-out audience by playing music from his first album, One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali.” Cue, Grahamstown National Arts Festival Review read 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 Citizen] Read 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]