Derek Gripper: Tiny Desk Concert

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Derek Gripper performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Nov. 14, 2016. (Raquel Zaldivar/NPR)

You probably shouldn't be reading this — just listen to Derek Gripper play and watch his fingers work. You can see and hear his classical training from his first notes behind the Tiny Desk.

The 38-year-old started on violin at age 6, then wound up with one of the few classical-guitar professors in his native South Africa. But touring the world playing the music of the great dead white men was not all that appealing (though Gripper still loves to play Bach). Then he heard a record by the Malian kora player Toumani Diabate. He decided that that's what he wanted to do: not play the kora itself, but play kora music on the guitar.

Of course, the kora has 21 strings, each tuned to a fixed note. The nylon-stringed guitar Gripper plays has six. But by using unusual tunings and fretting the strings up and down the neck with his left hand, he can pretty much hit all of the kora's notes. He shows how he can evoke the West African instrument's multiple voices simultaneously in the third piece of his Tiny Desk concert, "Jarabi."

The remarkable thing is, he figured all of this out — and recorded two acclaimed albums — just by listening to CDs and checking out music online. Gripper painstakingly transcribed what he heard onto a kind of notation called tablature — similar to the music written for the Renaissance vihuela, which was also an inspiration. Earlier this year, Gripper finally made it to Mali, where his efforts received the blessing of Toumani Diabate himself; the two even jammed together. Now, go back to the concert.

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Set List
  • "Tuth Jara" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)
  • "Joni" (Derek Gripper)
  • "Jarabi" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)
  • "Duga" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)
Musicians

Derek Gripper (guitar)

Credits

Producers: Tom Cole, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Nicole Boliaux; Production Assistant: Anna Marketti; Photo: Raquel Zaldivar/NPR.

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