About Derek Gripper

It took Derek Gripper untold hours of painstaking work to transcribe note-for-note the complex compositions of Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and find a way of playing them on six-string guitar. The results appeared on his ninth album, One Night on Earth. The album created an unprecedented meeting point between the written tradition of Western classical music and the oral tradition of the West African griots. 

Critical acclaim was quick to follow. Classical guitar legend John Williams said he thought it was “absolutely impossible until I heard Derek Gripper do it.” Toumani Diabaté himself asked for confirmation that it was indeed just one person playing one guitar. Both invited Derek to collaborate with them: Derek performed with Williams in London’s Shakespeare’s Globe and King’s Place, and with Diabaté and his Symmetric Orchestra at the Acoustik Festival Bamako, Mali. He also played with Trio da Kali at Carnegie Hall and won a Songlines Award for the best album in Africa and the Middle East. Derek tours regularly in the USA, Canada, Britain, Europe, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Australia, Malaysia, India and Mali.  

Aside from these transcriptions Derek has created original music from his diverse influences, from Africa: Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Arvo Part, and Egberto Gismonti. Derek has also spent many years performing and recording his own translations of Bach’s violin and cello music, infusing his interpretations with his lessons from the oral traditions of Africa.  

His works for string quartet, larger ensembles or installations have been performed/exhibited at The Venice Architecture Biennale, Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival in the UK and used in films such as Five Fingers For Marseilles



His studies took him to India where he learned the rudiments of the Carnatic percussion language… 


On the farms of the Western Cape where he created an “avant-ghoema” string quartet language (Sagtevlei 2001) with South African composer and trumpeter Alex van Heerden.  


He then began to explore new ways to play and composer for the guitar, first on eight string guitar (an instrument inspired by Paul Galbraith’s “Brahms Guitar) in evocations of Cape Town folk music (Blomdoorns 2003). 


Feeling frustrated with the guitars he was playing Derek contacted Hermann Hauser III, grandson of the legendary builder who made Segovia’s famous guitar of late 30’s to 60’s fame. Hermann arranged a guitar and this is what Derek has been playing ever since. His first recordings on it returned to composing on six string guitar, (Ayo 2008, Kai Kai 2009)… 


…then somebody suggested that collaboration would be a good idea and so Derek’s transcription projects began, first with the music of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti (The Sound of Water 2012) whose solo guitar works are an explosive rewriting of classical guitar, world music, jazz and contemporary classical. The album combines Gismonti’s music with Derek’s own compositions.  


Derek completed a ten year project to understand and translate the music of the West African kora (21 string harp) virtuoso Toumani Diabate to solo guitar, resulting in two critically acclaimed albums, One Night on Earth (Songlines Top of the World) and… 


Libraries on Fire, which received the Songlines award for “Best Album Africa and Middle East” in 2017. The recognition from these albums resulted in concert tours the world over, performances at venues such as Carnegie Hall, and collaborations with classical guitar legend John Williams, Indian guitar master Debashish Battacharya, and West African Musicians such as Trio da Kali and Toumani Diabate himself.  


Derek returned to the studio and to his musical roots to record an album of the solo violin works of Bach, arranged on solo guitar and delivered with the phraseology and fire of a musician who has steeped himself in musics outside of the classical canon.  


Collaboration album with Mike Block, two improvised solo studio albums and 


A record with string quartet, a project which was premiered at The Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival.  


Billy Goes to Durban, a collection of solo guitar compositions and improvisations recorded in multiple environments, was released by Platoon on the September 24, 2021.